DRAFFENVILLE – Marshall County will add an “ambu-bus,” a jumbo ambulance which can transport as many as 18 injured or disabled people, to its emergency response arsenal.
A school bus will be donated by Marshall County Schools to Fiscal Court and a federal grant administered by the Kentucky Department of Public Health through the Kentucky Hospital Association will fund conversion of the bus.
The board of education approved a recommendation by facilities and transportation director Danny Davis March 13 to donate a bus after a request from Marshall County Emergency Management.
“I’m a strong believer in school-community relations and I think this would be a very good thing for us to do,” Davis said. “We’re going to be selling our ’98 models. I recommend we hold one of them out and donate it to the county.”
The bus will be maintained and insured by the county after it is deactivated as a school bus, Davis said. Emergency preparedness staff will handle the conversion.
Mark Harrison, Marshall County Ambulance Service EMS director, said the project has been in discussion for “three or four years,” and is coming to pass thanks to the Jackson Purchase region’s Hospital Preparedness Program.
Harrison said the Marshall ambu-bus is one of two that were funded by the grant. McCracken County, he said, purchased a bus for conversion and it is nearing completion.
A conversion kit to outfit the Marshall County bus has already been purchased at a cost of $30,000, Harrison said.
The buses are considered regional resources, Harrison said, to be pressed into service anywhere in the Jackson Purchase or even beyond those eight counties to assist in response to whatever situations might occur.
A local incident spurred work on the project, Harrison said.
“We had a smoke scare at Calvert City Convalescent Center,” he said. Evacuation of the 95-bed facility, as it turned out, was not necessary. But had the situation been more serious, an oversized ambulance would have been useful in relocating residents of the facility with physical disabilities, he said.
Emergency Management director Melissa Combs and chief deputy director Duane Hawes pursued the matter on behalf of Fiscal Court, Judge Executive Mike Miller said.
“We’re just real excited to have this tool available,” Miller said.
Ambulance buses have been in limited use practically since the development of the automobile, with early uses by the military in World War I to transport battlefield casualties.
Recently, specialized purpose-built and conversion vehicles have been pressed into service for use in transporting mass numbers of injured from disaster sites or to evacuate hospital or extended-care facility patients.
Top-line vehicles, staffed with trained professionals, can provide mobile triage, first-aid and even advanced medical care on site.
As a less-expensive alternative, converted school buses can provide many of the capabilities of more expensive, purpose-built vehicles.
In 2009, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the state of Mississippi’s departments of health and education partnered in a program to convert school buses for use as large-capacity ambulances.
“Many lessons were learned from previous hurricanes, one of these being the additional need for medical transportation to evacuate non-ambulatory individuals,” said Jim Craig, director of the Mississippi Health Department’s Office of Health Protection.
Mississippi took advantage of conversion kits being offered to outfit buses.
“These new kits offer Mississippi an economical solution in addressing this need,” Craig said. “Converting buses into medical transportation during disasters offers emergency responders an added resource to effectively and efficiently evacuate a large number of the special needs population at once and in as little time as possible.”
Harrison noted that the installation kits are designed to bolt into the same mounting positions used to secure the seats in a school bus, making the conversion a relatively simple process.
Miller praised the school board for its generosity.
“We’ve always had a great relationship with the school board and the superintendent, Mr. [Trent] Lovett,” he said.
Davis noted other 1998 model buses will be sold through Kentucky Interlocal School Transportation Association (KISTA) rather than at surplus auction.