Fire/rescue to add ‘Ambubus’

OKEECHOBEE — A “table top” exercise with emergency management started a discussion that led to the county’s emergency officials finding a way to be more prepared for a major medical emergency.

“This project started roughly two years ago,” Karl Holtkamp.

“We did a table top exercise with emergency management. We realized if we had an emergency with a lot of non-ambulatory people, we did not have a way to move them,” he said. The exercise involved a scenario in which a tornado hit a nursing home.

Due to unfortunate incidents around the country which involved events with multiple casualties, the need for a vehicle that could transport more than two patients at one time was brought to the forefront.

The “Ambubus” project was worked on jointly by Okeechobee County Health Department, Emergency Management, and Okeechobee County Fire/Rescue. The Okeechobee County Health Department obtained a grant from the Heartland Health Coalition for equipment to convert a school bus into a multi-patient ambulance. The value of the equipment for conversion of the bus and assistance in conversion of the bus is valued at over $100,000.

Okeechobee County School Board has offered to donate a school bus for the project. The 2005 International bus has a wheel chair lift. The bus is valued at $15,000.

Fire/Rescue Chief Ralph Franklin said currently the county ambulances can only move one to two patients at a time, and each ambulance requires two Fire/Rescue staff members.

The Ambubus will hold 8 to 12 patients and will require three to four EMS staff.

The Ambubus will be available as a regional asset for the surrounding communities.

At their Nov. 9 meeting, the Okeechobee County Commissioners officially accepted the donation of the school bus for the project.

“To move a mass of people in a short time, get them to a hospital is a great idea,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.

“I like your progressive thinking,” said Commissioner David Hazellief.

The equipment for the Ambubus is designed to fit in a school bus. The school bus seats will be unbolted and removed and the new equipment bolted right in.

“I’m surprised more communities aren’t doing this,” said Commissioner Culpepper.

Currently there is only one Ambubus in the region — in Collier County — which is several hours away.

The Ambubus will be staffed by Fire/Rescue personnel augmented by Okeechobee Medical Reserve Corps volunteers.

County ambubus, subject of planning session, is discussed at the Nov. 9 County Commission meeting.

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