Marshall County School Bus Gets New Life as Emergency Vehicle

Aug 20, 2012

Earlier this year, Marshall County Emergency Medical Services converted a retired vehicle from the school bus fleet into a piece of emergency response equipment called an “AmbuBus”. Made with conversion kits from First Line Technology, LLC, these automotive Frankensteins have been popping up around the country. After seeing the vehicle, Casey Northcutt has more on the new life of an old bus.

The bright yellow paint of Marshall County’s AmbuBus seems out of place next to emergency vehicles in the local EMS parking lot. To a passer-by, it might look more like field-trip transportation for middle school children than a piece of Marshall’s disaster response equipment.

“We actually got the bus from the Marshall County School System.”

That’s Ambulance Service Director Bryan Cutsinger as he opens up the AmbuBus doors and shows off the inside.

“This was a bus that they were fixing to retire out of service, and we were fortunate enough for them to give us their best one that they were fixing to retire. It don’t even have 100,000 miles on it yet.”

He says Kentucky’s Hospital Preparedness Program purchased the AmbuBus kit for roughly $30,000. The HPP also funded a kit for Paducah’s Mercy Regional EMS.

In the Marshall County bus, only four of the original seats remain, while the rest of the vehicle holds 10 cots, stacked in columns on either side of aisle. There’s a distinct lack of medical equipment because, Cutsinger says, EMS will only use the AmbuBus for evacuation of mildly injured residents when disasters like earthquakes or wildfires occur. Critical patients would still need to travel in traditional ambulances. Yet, he says the county EMS needs to anticipate all kinds of patients and situations.

“We had an incident a while back, which I can’t remember how many years ago, but I don’t believe there actually was a fire, but it was a fire alarm in a nursing home. It’s just kind of stuff like that that makes you think, ‘What would you do if part of that nursing home caught on fire? How would we get them out in a hurry?’”

Workers at First Line Technology asked themselves similar questions in 2005 as they watched carnage spread through Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. According to President Amit Kapoor, that’s when they began developing the idea of creating emergency mass transit vehicles from city or county surplus transportation.

“At First Line, we tried to come up with a solution where they could utilize a cost-effective tool and utilize local school district buses. They can convert the school bus over, and then once they’re done, they can convert the ambulance bus back into a school bus.”

Kapoor says EMS agencies may also use other vehicles, like city metro buses, for their makeshift ambulances and the ability to convert both recycles buses and cuts the price. A medical ambulance bus, he says, could cost between $400,000 and $600,000, whereas an AmbuBus kit costs less than 10 percent of those figures. It’s a bargain, and cities around the country have caught on. Kapoor estimates that since the kit went on the market around 2008, First Line has sold more than 350 kits, some of which have been used in creative ways.

“Customers have utilized it for 5k races where they’ve taken the bus out there, and they’ve used it for rehabilitation or somebody, they used it as a first aid center. So, there’s multiple uses to it just beyond evacuation.”

Now that Marshall County has an AmbuBus of its own, it can delve into those uses. According to Transportation SupervisorDaryl Lindsey, the school bus would have been sold at a public auction had EMS not converted it into an emergency vehicle.  Yet now, with $30,000 of new equipment, the bus can begin a new life in service of the county.