Ambulance engine problem solved

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CHRISMAN – Recurring engine failure with one of the Northern Edgar County Ambulance Service’s ambulances resulted in the need for four engines in two years.

The most recent engine failed with less than 300 miles on it with a hole burned into a piston. Working with a mechanic and Ford Motor Company the source of the problem was finally isolated to a part remotely located from the engine.

Jeremy Neal, NECAS coordinator, said the ambulance arrived with an E85 gas cap as part of the original equipment.

“We’ve been running it on E85 and burning the motor out,” said Neal.

It is not known how the fuel cap mix-up occurred but Ford confirmed the motor in the ambulance is not designed to use E85, which is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

The most recent repair came to $11,000 because it was necessary to drop the fuel tank, replace the burned out catalytic converter and also replace the fuel pump, fuel injectors and make other repairs.

NECAS board president Kevin Julian has talked to the insurance company about covering the expense as an accident.

“Really, it’s nobody’s fault,” said Julian.

Neal raised another issue during the NECAS board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 26. Ross Township sent him a letter requesting a financial audit. NECAS is funded in part by contributions from Ross, Prairie, Broulletts Creek, Edgar, Shiloh and Young America townships and the communities of Hume, Metcalf and Chrisman. The total the ambulance service received last year from the government entities was $22,000.

“I don’t have a problem with it, if Ross is paying for it,” said Chrisman city council representative Rodney Wolfe.

Mike Taylor, the Ross Township representative, replied the anticipation is the funding entities will share in the cost.

No action was taken but the consensus was to ask local banker Ben Jenness Jr. to review the ambulance service books as a first step before seeking an audit.

“It wouldn’t hurt to have one, since we will likely have changes,” said Wolfe.

The NECAS board has placed a referendum question on the March 17 ballot asking northern Edgar County residents to approve the creation of a taxed special service area. If successful, it becomes the county board’s responsibility to bid the ambulance service and it is possible NECAS will dissolve, so an itemized list of assets is needed.

Neal’s report was a mix of good news and bad news, beyond the cost of repairing the ambulance. A grant he submitted for replacing the old monitors in the ambulances was denied. As a result, he said, NECAS will have to at least buy new batteries for the old devices.

On the positive side, some former volunteers have agreed to return for a limited time to help the financially struggling ambulance service. More volunteers will help ease the payroll side of the operation. NECAS is currently losing about $1,200 per month with expenses outstripping revenue.

A tricky issue was deciding whether or not to give Christmas bonus to the EMTs that staff the ambulance, given the current financial straits. The suggestion was $1,200 divided among those eligible with $1,000 being split for those who put in the most hours and the balance for those who do less.

Wolfe voted for the measure because people like to be recognized for their contribution while noting, “We’ll go under a month sooner, but we’re going under anyway.”