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18 new ambulances ease job of paramedics

The vehicles, purchased with $1.8-million from the Community Investment Tax, replace an aging fleet.

For nearly two decades, Captain Tom McCahan has acclimated himself to the back of an ambulance. From heart attacks to severe traffic accidents, the veteran paramedic with Station 19 has learned to think fast and act quickly in the confined quarters of the moving vehicle. And he does his best to comfort the patient, even when rocked by the occasional bump and jolt from the highway.

But in recent months, McCahan said the job has been easier for him and his colleagues in Hillsborough County, thanks to 18 new ambulances that replaced an aging fleet of outdated vehicles.

"They are smoother and it gives a better ride for the patient," said McCahan, 44. "It allows the technicians in the back more room to perform their job more effectively."

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue's new Freightliner Medical Attack Vehicles are some of the latest visible fruits of the Community Investment Tax, source of the $1.8-million used to pay for the fleet. The last two ambulances arrived this month.

In 1996, Hillsborough County voters approved a half-a-cent increase in sales tax to help pay for public works projects, along with a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Cliff Hitchman, a spokesman for the fire rescue department, said the tax enabled the department to replace all of its front-line vehicles ahead of schedule and purchase new vehicles every four years.

"If you are in the middle of a transport, you don't have to worry about something breaking down," said Hitchman. "Those (older ambulances) were getting some mileage put on. That mileage adds up quickly."

Hitchman said rescue workers put about 25,000 miles a year on the average ambulance. Most of the older ones had between 190,000 and 200,000 miles on their odometers, McCahan said. The fire department plans to keep them as reserves.

Each vehicle cost $99,480 without equipment. Hitchman said a stretcher costs $2,700.

"The old ones are basically a pickup truck with a box on it," said Hitchman before opening the door to one of the new Freightliner MAVs. "This is designed for heavy use. They are expensive, but well worth it."

The new models are wider with almost a foot more head room than the old ones. They include strobe lighting in place of the antiquated revolving lights.

"They are safer to the community in that they are bigger, easier to see when we are racing down the road," said McCahan.

Station 19 in Carrollwood has had its new ambulance, Rescue 19, for three months and McCahan has noticed the difference.

"They handle better. They brake better," McCahan said. "When you put all that together in the pile, does it cut down on response time? Absolutely."

_ Michael Sandler can be reached at 226-3472 or