MADERA COUNTY – You probably never give much thought to ambulances – that is until you need one, or see one go screaming by and wonder where it might be headed.
Fortunately, the folks at Sierra Ambulance give a great deal of thought and attention to making sure their vehicles are always ready to go at a moment’s notice.
In the past few weeks, they’ve taken delivery of three shiny new Type 3 vehicles that still have that “new ambulance” smell when you open the doors.
Complete with a new paint scheme and some handy new features, these units will be put into service as soon as they are equipped and outfitted. The three that they are replacing will be kept in reserve for increased call demand and times when the front-line units need routine maintenance.
Ed Guzman, General Manager of Sierra Ambulance, says their fleet of three vehicles racks up about 250,000 miles per year, covering all of Eastern Madera County, plus parts of Yosemite National Park and Fish Camp in Mariposa County.
“These are still very serviceable, good pieces of equipment,” says Guzman of the 2010 units, noting that it’s the high mileage that warrants their replacement.
Transitioning over the past few years from the van-style to the Type 3 box ambulance has many benefits, not only for the patients but for the staff.
“The vans are tapered on the sides, so when we have two patients in the back, there’s virtually no room for the paramedic stand up, or move around and work on the patient,” says Guzman. “The larger size not only provides better and safer care, it allows us to carry more specialized equipment.”
The larger vehicles also have dual wheels in the rear, making them much more stable than the vans, and less likely to slide or roll.
“We’ve never had a major accident, and hope we never do, but we know that these vehicles will provide a safer environment for everyone should one occur,” says Guzman. “And they do very well in inclimate weather.”
Other features include LED lighting, an additional cabinet for more equipment, and the convenience of self-adjusting air suspension when the back doors are open.
“There’s a button that functions kind of like your dome light,” says Guzman. “When you open the door, the back end lowers to allow for easier loading and off-loading. When you close the door, it raises back up.”
Guzman notes that the air suspension is supposed to provide a smoother ride, “but at the end of the day, it’s still a truck.”
The Type 3 units are equipped to carry up to three patients lying down. There is space for a gurney, a bench for a stretcher or backboard where the patient can be buckled in, and in a disaster type situation, they can use the hooks on the ceiling to hang a stretcher and secure a third patient.
The captain’s chair even opens into a child safety seat, with a jump seat that folds down for the paramedic if the child seat is in use.
Though we live in the mountains, this is the age of technology, and Sierra Ambulance is as well-equipped as any service in more urban areas.
“All of our ambulances have GPS and they all have an onboard computer,” says Guzman. “The responders receive their call information by radio and then it’s backed up with a digital display with maps. This gives them additional call information about the incident they’re going to.”
The ambulance crew can also get information they don’t necessarily want going out over the radio, such as security or gate codes. They can also communicate directly, not only with their own dispatch center, but with all the area hospitals and the Sheriff’s Office.
Sierra Ambulance has been incorporated since 1964, and because they receive no government money, they have to be self-supporting.
“We’re non profit,” says Guzman, “and we raise our money through insurance and patient billing just like any other health care provider. But we also raise money through fundraising efforts.”
One of those efforts is their membership program. For $65 a year, a whole family is covered.
“The membership fee pays that portion of the ambulance bill that is left over after insurance,” says Guzman. “If you have no insurance it covers the whole bill, and if your insurance denies the claim for any reason, we will fight for you, and if we lose, your membership covers the whole bill.”
Sierra Ambulance operates out of three locations in Eastern Madera County – Bass Lake Government Center, the Oakhurst location on Winding Way, and a third location just off Road 417 near the casino in Coarsegold. The hope is to one day have a fourth location in North Fork.
When asked what people may not know about Sierra Ambulance, Guzman had this to say.
“People should know that our paramedics receive the same state licensure and meet the same standards as any paramedic anywhere in California. Just because they live in the country does not mean they’re receiving a lesser level of care. We carry all the same equipment, medication and equipment and actually more than in any urban center in the state of California. We do everything they do in urban centers and sometime more, because of our long transport times.”
For more information on Sierra Ambulance and the service they provide, please visit their website at http://www.sierraambulance.org/cgi-bin/cal/index.asp