‘We’re constantly trying to move vehicles around and optimize them,’ 22 of N.O. EMS 40 fleet operational

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 6:09 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - A New Orleans EMT works 12 hours a shift. Typically, sitting in a vehicle waiting to respond to a call. As they sit and wait, the vehicle runs.

“You can imagine during rain event or heat that vehicle needs to be running to make sure that they’re comfortable and safe throughout that shift,” said Dr. Emily Nichols, New Orleans’ EMS Director. “Similarly, that vehicle needs to be at a perfect temperature when someone ill needs to get inside of it.”

Nichols says sometimes one unit can run 24 hours straight.

“There certainly are several instances of overlap. More often than not we have ambulances that rotate from one crew to the next and run 24/7 and it does place a lot of wear and tear on their overtime,” Nichols said.

Of the department’s 40 ambulances, 22 are in service. Crews at the city’s equipment maintenance division work on the other 18. Nichols says on an average day, without a major event, she currently stations 16 ambulances across the city from mid-day to early evening, which are peak hours.

More: ‘We cannot stay at this level of stress forever,’ ambulances never sent to hundreds of New Orleans EMS callers

But she says she’d station more if she had more working vehicles. Nichols says she regularly speaks with Mayor Latoya Cantrell and Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano about the fleet issue.

“I have a significant challenge with their infrastructure as far as their ambulances, some of the equipment relative to that,” Montano said during a city council budget committee meeting.

“One of the things I want to continue to establish is a robust maintenance plan and schedule,” Montano said. “I think providing our public safety servants with good reliable equipment. It means a great deal, more than we can imagine being able to have good reliable equipment.”

Nichols says the agency’s logistic team keeps up with where each vehicle is at all times and how often it is in use.

“We have a really extensive tracking system that our logistic division does look at the preventative maintenance that each ambulance and EMT team is required to do at the beginning of their shift,” Nichols explained. “Then also looking at any unique repair for that vehicle. Whether they are a small repair or something significant that puts it out of commission. So, we’re constantly trying to move vehicles around and optimize them.”

The cost of a new ambulance is upwards of $300,000.

The department reuses a critical part of another ambulance. It moves the truck component where a patient is treated to a new chassis. This process costs between $170,000 to $215,000.

“If I hit the lottery, of course, I would want more,” she said.

Meanwhile, Nichols tries to make sure as many are on the street as possible, “Having more downtime for any vehicle is certainly optimal but we’re not always able to achieve that.”

FOX 8 reached out to Councilmember Jared Brossett, who chairs the budget committee, says it’s vital the city use funding from the American Rescue Plan to support critical city services like EMS.

“As Chair of the City’s Budget Committee, I was unaware of any staffing or funding issue within the New Orleans Emergency Medical Services. To date, I have yet to receive any communications or updates on this matter from the Administration. This issue is one of the reasons that I continue to push the Administration for detailed information on the $388 million in funding we will receive from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).

It is absolutely vital that we use ARP funding to the maximum extent possible to support and augment our critical city services like EMS. To this end, budgetary concerns and decisions need to be vetted by the entire City Council and the public, in order to avoid these types of critical shortfalls in the future.”

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