Within 45 days, Ellis County should have a new ambulance in its fleet, replacing one that is 16 years old and with more than 150,000 miles on it, according to Ellis County EMS director Kerry McCue.

Over the next 12 months, the county is buying two new ambulances. The first one to arrive will replace a 2003 Ford and the second a 2010 Chevy, which also has 150,000 miles on it.

“These trucks have been out of service more than they’ve been in service lately,” said McCue, speaking Monday at a meeting of the Ellis County Commission at the Ellis County Administrative Center, 718 Main St.

At McCue’s recommendation, the commissioners approved a competitive bid for the two new ambulances from Osage Industries Inc., of Linn, Mo., for $373,080, despite it having the lowest trade-in allowance among the bidders.

“When we get done with a truck, it wouldn’t be the first truck to leave here on a flat bed,” McCue said. “About the trade-in value, we don’t get anything for these. There’s just no market for them after the fact. They used to be able to sell them to Third World countries. They can’t do that anymore … Unless you trade them off at 75,000 miles, when an ambulance is traded off it’s done.”

A planned purchase, the first ambulance should arrive from the manufacturer in a month-and-a-half, McCue said, and the other one should get here within 250 to 300 days. The county pays for them as they come in, he said.

Both trucks are overdue for replacement. The 2003 was originally scheduled for replacement in 2013, and the 2010 replacement was bumped from 2018 to 2019. Money for the purchase was earmarked in the Ellis County Capital Improvement Plan.

The 2020 budget for Emergency Services is predicated on reducing service and maintenance costs, McCue said, going on to mention the 2003 truck specifically.

“I think that truck is going to continue to cause us problems, even into 2020, so we are going to especially need to replace that truck in 2020 or it’s going to continue to cause us maintenance problems,” he said.

Commissioner Dean Haselhorst asked about dropping a new motor and transmission into the 2010 truck to get a few more years out of it. McCue indicated it’s not that simple.

“You’re looking not only at an engine and a transmission,” he said. “You’re looking at a vehicle, and electronics, a highly technical vehicle, that does a very specific job. I think you’d sink a lot of money into a vehicle; that probably wouldn’t be the way I’d go fiscally with it.

Typically the ambulance service gets about 10 years out of a truck, running it to 100,000 miles, but that could change since Hays Medical Center has become part of the University of Kansas Health System.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to KU a lot more,” McCue said. “Last week, we had one day where we went to KU and Kansas City twice in one day, and had a third opportunity and had to turn it down because we had two trucks on the highway. … Remember those type of transports are what offset the number of tax dollars that we put into the system.”

The last trucks the county bought were $195,000 each. These are $186,000.

Three of the last four trucks came from Professional Ambulance, of Comanche, Texas, which submitted a bid, but which has since changed hands.

“They met the specs, but as you can tell, $422,742, they’re almost $50,000 above the second closest bidder,” McCue told the commissioners. “I can’t come to you in good faith and ask for that purchase.”

The department’s existing fleet of ambulances, which includes one in Victoria, one in Ellis and four in Hays, are diesel, but the two new ones will be gasoline.

That was a big decision and made the decision-making process a long one, he said.

The cutaway chassis that the department uses no longer has the diesel engine available, McCue said. That forced them to evaluate gasoline engines, or moving to a different platform, namely a pickup front that has a diesel engine in it, which is several thousand dollars higher.

“After looking at each one, driving each one, we actually made a trip to Dodge City where we drove one of the gasoline engines,” McCue said. “Ford County, Finney County and several other services across the area are using those … We actually had a dealer bring one of the Type 1 pickups by and we had a crew and took it out and drove it.

With the choice to move away from diesel, he said EMS will make some changes, including operationally and adding training, to make sure the gasoline engines incorporate into the organization.

County Commissioner Dustin Roths approved the switch, saying it would require the new EMS director being on board also when McCue retires at the end of the year.

“I think it’s a fiscally responsible move, as far as helping EMS’s budget with all the repairs over the years,” Roths said. “As long as they’re confident going to the gas fleet, and your predecessor is confident he can keep people from putting diesel into gas engines, then I think this is a good move for us.”

“We are going to do everything we can do to stop that,” McCue said. “It has happened before when we went the other way, from gas to diesel. But we’re going to mark them, we’re going to do some things, and some training, to prevent that in any way we can.”

The next scheduled replacement is 2021, McCue said.

“Do you have ample funds for that one?” asked Commissioner Butch Schlyer.

“It appears we’re going to be very tight,” McCue answered.

Partly it depends on how many transfers the department continues doing for KU Med, and if it can continue to get grants for the expensive equipment that is needed, such as a $300,000 grant for the purchase of cardiac monitors.

“I’m bringing this to you because I think this is the most fiscally responsible thing,” McCue said. “I could present you very easily a $225,000, $250,000 truck. I can’t do that in the current fiscal climate.”