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Ambulance chassis shortage affecting Montana agencies



Helena, Montana – In Montana, ambulances are often driven a great distance, which emergency personnel report might result in significant maintenance needs as a vehicle matures. Nevertheless, while they wait for new ambulances to become available, some agencies are now forced to make do with what they have.

The continued effects of a statewide scarcity of ambulance chassis—the engine and frame of an ambulance—which are supplied by automakers like Ford and General Motors were covered this week by Scripps News. The “box,” or the portion of the ambulance that houses the emergency gear at the back, is assembled by ambulance manufacturers on top of the chassis.

Ambulances for Missoula Emergency Services are provided by an Iowan firm. According to Manager Don Whalen, the company has experienced a delay in fulfilling orders due to a scarcity of chassis.

“We ordered one last year, and we were just notified – just over a year now – that our chassis did come in,” he said.

As far out as Philipsburg and occasionally even in sections of Idaho, according to Whalen, Missoula Emergency Services is now able to respond to calls.

“Ambulances really get some pretty rough, tough miles put on them; it’s not uncommon to be on any of the mountains around here with them,” he said. “So they’re rode pretty hard, to be honest with you.”

According to him, they keep a fleet of “frontline” ambulances that are utilized for routine emergency care. After an ambulance travels 150,000 to 180,000 kilometers, it is retired from regular service and used only as a backup or for servicing at occasions such as sporting events. But the one they intend to replace next has more than 200,000 miles on it already.

“A piece of mechanical equipment, you never know when it’s going to break down,” said Whalen. “But when you get higher mileage rigs, your chances of breaking down are much greater than they are when they’re new rigs still under warranty.”

As the president of the Montana Ambulance Association, Whalen claims to speak for roughly thirty to forty private ambulance providers in the state. He claims that some of those services are having comparable problems.

“It’s still basically the same supply chain for all of us, and that’s where the issue lies,” he said.

According to Whalen, they intend to receive their new ambulance from the manufacturer and put it into service before the end of the current year. He claims that they are early in the process of putting an order for their next successor.

“We need to order it a year or two in advance now,” he said.


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