Ambulance Innovation

Wed, Oct 4, 2017
file photos courtesy Michael O. Benavides/Austin-Travis County EMS

Two of the biggest cost drivers for any EMS agency are vehicle maintenance and fuel costs. Some key suggestions for increasing fuel efficiency and reducing fuel and maintenance costs include reducing speed, avoiding excessive idling and removing excess weight. Obviously, many of these suggestions present challenges to any EMS agency. In most cases, our normal course of operations run contrary to these tips.

Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) has always searched for new and innovative solutions for greater safety, improved efficiency and reduction in operational costs-all while having little to no negative impact on service quality.

Ambulance idle time was one area we identified as a target that could potentially save money and reduce energy consumption. In 2010, as part of the city of Austin and ATCEMS’ Green initiative, solar panel systems were installed on some of the vehicles in the fleet. The solar panels allowed ambulances to be turned off at the hospitals during the day while the sun kept the batteries charged, so the ambulance would restart.

During this time, we also learned that one of our public safety partners was using a battery system to power onboard cameras when their patrol cars were turned off.


Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) entered into a public-private
partnership with Stealth Power and green-powered electrical systems
have now been installed in more than 40 ATCEMS ambulances.

ATCEMS contacted their system supplier, Stealth Power, to see if we could work together to develop an ambulance-specific green energy solution. Our goal was to develop a reliable system that provides power to the patient care compartment without keeping the engine running.

In order to create a system that would meet ATCEMS’ needs, Stealth Power and ATCEMS entered into a public-private partnership. Stealth Power would develop a green-powered battery for use on ambulances, and ATCEMS would provide an ambulance to Stealth Power for installation, testing and proof of concept of their battery system.

After a three-year collaboration, the partnership yielded a cutting-edge, green mobile technology called the Stealth Power EMS series. In 2012, the first operational model was installed and tested over the course of a year and produced very positive results.

In subsequent years, the Stealth Power EMS system was installed on all new ambulances, and in 2014 our ambulance manufacturer began installing the battery systems at their manufacturing facility in Orlando, Fla.

To date, green-powered electrical systems have been installed in more than 40 ATCEMS ambulances.

Benefits

Reduced emissions and noise from idling engines not only help to improve our environment, but also help to improve the working conditions of emergency personnel.

On any given day, there are multiple vehicles idling outside an ED. Breathing in toxic emissions and the stress caused by hearing the repetitive, loud noise of the idling engine are eliminated when the vehicle is turned off.

Additionally, the Stealth Power green technology has allowed ATCEMS to:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions, thereby reducing our department’s carbon footprint;
  • Save money by reducing fuel costs from idling engine time;
  • Reduce engine hours, thereby reducing vehicle maintenance costs;
  • Employ a new technology with very limited training required;
  • Utilize an accessory battery switch to jump-start a dead engine battery, thereby reducing out-of-service maintenance time; and
  • Provide positive public relations information to the community about our innovative and cost-efficient approach.

 


The “powered by green energy” logo has been placed on Austin-Travis County EMS ambulances to inform
the community and highlight the agency’s efforts in utilizing renewable green energy.

Challenges

As we know, there are always challenges, not only in the introduction of new processes and equipment to your workforce, but even more so as an early adopter of new technology. Some of these challenges include: Compatibility issues (retrofitting vs. original factory install); new price points; unforeseen issues that get resolved with subsequent updates; lack of long-term supportive data (the 2017 models will provide battery usage data); and the cultural and behavioral changes for the workforce (e.g., powering down parked ambulances, confidence in vehicle performance and climate control during extreme heat or cold).

In an ever-increasing search for renewable and sustainable energy, ATCEMS considers itself on the forefront of these innovations. Although this singular initiative may appear inconsequential, as part of a larger community initiative the net effect can yield significant results.


How to increase Fuel efficiency & reduce Maintenance Costs

  • Avoid speeding, rapid acceleration and braking. This will lower your gas mileage by roughly 15-30% at highway speeds and 10-40% in stop-and-go traffic.
  • Reduce vehicle operation speeds to below 50 mph. Every 5 mph you drive over 50 mph is equivalent to paying an additional $0.16 per gallon per gas.
  • Remove excess weight. An extra 100 lbs. in your vehicle could reduce your miles per gallon (MPG) by about 1%.
  • Avoid excessive idling. Historically, ambulances idle 24 hours for every one hour of drive time (dependent on type of system, e.g., urban or rural). An idling ambulance can burn 0.25 to 1.5 gallons of fuel and can cause 35 to 50 miles worth of wear and tear on the engine (dependent on engine size and air conditioner/accessory use).
  • Limit engine start-ups to approximately 10 per day.
  • Limit electric accessory use during shutdown.

Reference

1. Driving more efficiently. (n.d.) U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved Aug. 31, 2017, from www.fueleconomy.gov.

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