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Local fire department can't always keep ambulance in service, even in emergencies

CREATED Feb. 25, 2013

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STURTEVANT - Imagine being in an ambulance on the way to a hospital when the ambulance breaks down. Not once. But twice. It happened in Sturtevant.

The South Shore Fire Department usually only has six ambulances responsible for thousands of patients in Sturtevant and Mount Pleasant. The problem is their fleet is aging, and in some cases, breaking down while crews are working to save lives.

When your life is on the line, you never want the paramedics to be the people calling for help.

That's what happened to Lieutenant John Radewan Friday night.

His ambulance sputtered to a stop - with a patient in the back, headed to the hospital with chest pains.

"You really don't want to be put in that position,” said Lt. John Radewan with the South Shore Fire Department. “Our job is tough enough as it is. Do we really need to be thinking in the back of our mind, ‘I wonder if the rig's going to make it to the hospital.’"

That troubled truck has broken down five times this year.

“There comes a time when you know it's just not worth keeping anymore," said interim Chief Mark Pierce.

Pierce is waiting for the Mount Pleasant Village Board to approve the purchase of a new rig. But the plan has been put on hold for years.

"The average life expectancy of an ambulance is 10 years, depending on use, and our newest ambulances are eight years old," Pierce added.

With the newer ambulance now in the repair shop, crews have to rely on this truck as a backup during emergencies. There's only one problem - it's 15 years old and lacks much of the space paramedics need.

Now allowed to price options, the department will work through its problems. But buying a replacement could take months.

That decision could take some time. Plus, both Sturtevant and Mount Pleasant village boards have to agree on a plan. Service is smooth for now, although though local repair shops said they are thinking about buying a loaner ambulance in case the problem arises again.