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Fire department orders custom ambulance to replace 1994 vehicle

Vashon will have a brand-new aid car by this summer, replacing one that’s outlived the normal life expectancy of an ambulance. Vashon Island Fire & Rescue officials ordered an ambulance from Chehalis-based Braun Northwest on Dec. 31, after the fire board approved the purchase at its meeting last week.

The custom-made aid car will cost $146,000, and King County Medic One, the county’s emergency medical services division, will pick up the tab, said Assistant Chief Mike Kirk.

Each year, Vashon Island Fire & Rescue receives funding from the county to support basic life support services, said Chief Hank Lipe.

“The money that we received for 2008, most of it was earmarked for that aid car,” he said.

When it arrives, the new aid car will replace the oldest of the fire department’s four ambulances, which is a 1994 vehicle made by South Carolina-based Road Rescue. The vehicle to be retired — it’s currently functioning as Station 55’s backup vehicle — will be sold as surplus, Kirk said.

“That’s a lot of years for an aid car,” Lipe said. “Obviously, there’s a big difference in technology between 1994 and 2009.”

Two of the Island’s ambulances are stationed at the fire department’s station on Bank Road. The other two aid cars are located at Burton and Dockton fire stations. The Island’s newer aid cars are from 1999 and 2002, he added.

“The new car will be placed on the front lines” at Station 55 in town, “and the oldest will be placed in reserve,” Lipe said.

Braun Northwest will build the aid car patient “box” and all its components, which will be affixed to a standard Ford vehicle chassis, said paramedic Mark Brownell.

One of the four Vashon aid cars is made by Braun, and the company supplies the majority of aid cars in the Seattle region, Lipe said.

The fire department sought bids for its new aid car earlier this month. Braun Northwest and another company gave estimates on the vehicle.

Braun’s proposal was both $2,000 less expensive and “a superior vehicle,” said Lipe.

“Not only was it the low bid,” he said, “but I was very impressed with their manufacturing process and their attention to quality control.”

Braun uses a method of box construction that is different than most other custom aid car manufacturers, Lipe said.

Braun employs “crumple zone technology, common in the automotive industry,” which is safer for the vehicle and its passengers and easier for body shops to repair in the event of a collision, according to the company’s proposal to the fire department.

Aid cars are driven harder than home or business vehicles, Brownell said, necessitating their repair or replacement on a regular basis. Brakes, tires and transmissions are a few of the components that are replaced frequently on aid cars.

“It’s rapid stop and go,” he said. “Either you’re all go, or you’re all stop.”

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