It took 10 months for North Riverside to take possession of its new Ford E450 Type III ambulance (above), which arrived on June 14 and will be placed into front-line service as soon as it passes its final state inspection, which was scheduled to happen this week. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

After trying to nurse along two ambulances, one of them more than 20 years old, for the past couple of years, the North Riverside Fire Department has taken possession of a new 2021 Ford E450 Type III ambulance and has another one on order with the manufacturer.

Fire Chief Bob McDermott said the new ambulance was delivered June 14 and that a final state inspection of the vehicle had been scheduled for June 28. As soon as the inspection is complete, said McDermott, it will be placed into front-line service.

Meanwhile, on June 20 the North Riverside Village Board voted unanimously to waive competitive bidding and approve a purchase contract with St. John, Indiana-based Fire Service Inc. for a 2023 or most current year Ford E450 Type III ambulance for $242,281.

The purchase price includes the installation of a power stretcher loading system similar to the one in the ambulance just delivered. The village paid about $189,000 for the new ambulance, said McDermott, after receiving a grant covering the cost of the power loader.

North Riverside paid for the ambulance it just received by tapping its general operating reserve. It’s not clear how the village intends to fund the second ambulance, but officials will have some time to work that out since delivery is not expected for 18 to 24 months, McDermott said. The purchase contract states the ambulance “shall be ready for delivery in approximately 25 months.” Payment is to be made upon delivery.

The 2021 ambulance just delivered replaces a 21-year-old Navistar ambulance that has been used as the department’s reserve vehicle. However, it had been forced into front-line use often due to mechanical issues with the 2009 Ford E450 that served in the lead role most of the time.

In September 2021, elected officials approved replacing the 2001 ambulance after McDermott said ambulance reliability had reached “the point of an emergency.” 

On multiple occasions last year, McDermott said, both of the fire department’s ambulances were out of service at the same time, forcing the village to ask Berwyn and Forest Park to temporarily loan them ambulances.

Since ordering a replacement for the 2001 ambulance last September, the department has been able to get by, but the front-line ambulance was down for a full month during that time for ‘hefty repairs.”

Elected officials decided to act June 20 to order a second new ambulance due to the rapidly rising cost of the vehicles and the amount of time it will take to receive it. The 2009 ambulance had been scheduled for replacement in 2024.

McDermott said that Fire Service Inc. planned a 7-percent price increase for the Ford E450 ambulance on June 21. Approving the contract on June 20 would lock in the price and guarantee delivery within the time frame of when the 2009 ambulance was scheduled to be replaced.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” said McDermott of the price of vehicles and the length of delivery time. “When we get the new [ambulance], we’ll rotate them to extend their lifetimes. Usually, five to seven years is the norm for replacement, but we’ll have to look at stretching that out a little more.”