Supply problems causing issues in ambulance replacements, including in West Chester

West Chester Township police and fire departments responded to the report of a shooting at Lakota Lake apartments on Lakeside Drive Friday, March 27, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
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West Chester Township police and fire departments responded to the report of a shooting at Lakota Lake apartments on Lakeside Drive Friday, March 27, 2020. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

A severe global shortage of microchips is causing issues for West Chester Twp. fire department’s equipment replacement program and could double the cost for ambulances for this year.

The trustees approved $277,239 for a replacement ambulance last week but also learned there is another unit that is constantly in the shop for repairs whose replacement should be ordered soon because delivery time is 14 months.

The long delay is due to fallout from the coronavirus pandemic that caused a shortage of microchips that are used to run everything from fire trucks and ambulances to smart phones.

Fire Chief Rick Prinz told the trustees that the department has another paramedic unithas been out of service 244 of the previous 365 days due to mechanical problems. Recently the ambulance stalled with a patient onboard, and the problem hasn’t been identified. It wasn’t scheduled to be replaced until next year, but that might change.

“Obviously this vehicle needs to be replaced, it’s nickel-diming us and it’s falling apart, but we’re looking at a 14-month delay to get a vehicle,” Prinz said.

It has cost the township $25,506 since 2015 to repair the vehicle, and it is expected to cost more once they can determine the cause of the problems.

“We would still have available budget at a later date sometime this year to pull the trigger on another paramedic unit, so we don’t have a huge delay, especially with a paramedic unit we can’t even rely on because it’s out of service 67% of the time,” Prinz said.

Prinz said the 2009 unit they agreed to replace now has the equivalent of 800,000 miles including the engine miles and actual mileage combined. The broken 2012 ambulance has 275,000 miles on it. He told the Journal-News their ambulances are usually on a 10-year replacement schedule. They have three in service and two back-ups.

Trustee Mark Welch asked if there isn’t a better way to get more life out of their vehicles, or possibly look into hybrid or electric vehicles.

“It has 132,774 road miles and 11,000 hours on the engine, what’s the purpose for leaving these vehicles run all the time,” Welch said.

Prinz said they must constantly idle the vehicles to keep emergency lights rolling, life saving systems operating and the patient area cooled and heated. As for new technology he said the “jury is still out.”

“The Los Angeles Fire Department took delivery of the first ever in the country all electric fire truck,” Prinz said. “The jury is still out, we’d like them to be the guinea pigs first. Of course they have an abundance of sunshine to be able to charge their solar panels on top of the truck... I’m really concerned about long-term scene operation when you’re running that pump for extended periods of time delivering 1,000 gallons a minute-plus.”