Riverside Public Safety Director Matthew Buckley waves from the cab of the village’s 2003 ambulance, which the fire department has used to transport COVID patients since 2020 and now is slated to be replaced. | FILE

A new ambulance is on the way to Riverside – sometime in early to mid-2023 – after village trustees voted unanimously to spend about $300,400 in federal COVID-19 aid funds to pay for the vehicle.

Riverside will purchase a 2022 Horton ambulance equipped with a power cot and power patient loading system from Forest Coach Sales Inc. in Sterling. The vehicle will replace the 2003 ambulance, which the fire department has used as its “COVID ambulance” during the past two years.

“We removed a lot of equipment from the back of it and sealed up a lot of the areas to isolate the back patient compartment area, so we would be able to transport somebody appropriately to the hospital,” Matthew Buckley, public safety director, told trustees at the Feb. 17 meeting of the village board where the purchase was approved.

As a result, the 2003 ambulance got quite a bit of use during the past 24 months, Buckley said, resulting in more wear and tear and need for additional maintenance.

“By replacing the 2003 ambulance, we can have a reliable reserve ambulance for times when the front-line ambulance is out of service,” Buckley wrote in a memo to trustees for the Feb. 17 meeting of the village board where the purchase was approved.

Buckley said the fire department will “rotate” the new ambulance and the ambulance the village purchased in 2018 as the front-line vehicle to extend the service life of both.

“There are times when both of our ambulances are utilized for special events as well as incident responses,” Buckley wrote. “Having reliable ambulances will assist with providing exceptional EMS services.”

While adding the power cot and patient loading systems to the ambulance increased the cost of the vehicle by about $50,000, the devices are worth it for preventing paramedics from incurring on-the-job injuries.

“It seems like a lot of money for that piece of equipment, which it is, but if we have one back injury as a result of loading a patient into an ambulance, this system pays for itself as far as I’m concerned,” said Buckley, noting the 2018 ambulance is also equipped with the power loading system.

While the village board gave the green light to buy the ambulance, Riverside won’t take delivery of the vehicle for another 12 to 14 months, Buckley told trustees last month. Buckley also urged the village board to act now to purchase the ambulance due to another expected price increase of 9 percent “in the next few months.” In 2018, a new ambulance cost the village about $280,000.

Funding for the ambulance is coming from the nearly $1.2 million Riverside received from the federal government as part of the American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Joe Biden last year.

Those funds are also expected to be used to purchase a new fire engine this year. The fire department is working up specifications for the new engine right now.