Nov. 27—A new $253,000 ambulance in Hampden takes into account everything from the long, unplowed driveways it will have to cross in the winter, to crew members' safety, to a need for quick and efficient sanitization.
The ambulance is the first of its kind in the Bangor region, and it shows how Hampden's fire department has grown with the community that hosts it.
It has four-wheel drive and is mounted on a truck chassis. The ambulance it replaced, which is still used as a backup emergency vehicle, is mounted on a van chassis. That change will make it easier for the ambulance to get in and out of unplowed driveways in the winter and down unpaved roads during mud season, according to Public Safety Director Christian Bailey.
The hydraulic lift in the back automatically removes the stretcher from the ambulance and pulls it back in so emergency personnel do not have to lift it into and out of the vehicle. That can be especially difficult when there is ice or slush on the ground, Bailey said.
The inside of the ambulance, where first responders administer medical care, is large enough so that 6-foot-tall paramedics, and those who are taller, can stand up straight and don't have to stoop over patients. Safety shoulder straps have replaced lap belts so ambulance personnel are safer when the vehicle might need to swerve around cars and trucks to get to a hospital quickly.
A dashboard screen alerts the driver if a patient being transported takes a sudden turn for the worse so he or she can drive faster when possible.
Once the ambulance returns to the public safety building on Western Avenue, it can be sealed with the flick of a switch and filled with ultraviolet light that helps kill germs and sanitize the inside. It also has a better ventilation system than older models.
Other changes reflect that the ambulance belongs to Hampden. The redesigned logo features a horse to honor the Hampden Academy Broncos, which has replaced the Dalmatian. The new ambulance is also fire-engine red rather than white.
Hampden purchases a new ambulance every seven or so years, Bailey said. It bought the last one in 2007 and paid $180,000 for it.
The decision to purchase a Type 1 on a truck chassis rather than the Type 3 ambulance Hampden has bought previously is part of the department's broader focus on safety and wellness, Bailey said.
Those changes are based, in part, on how the department and what the public expects from it have changed over the past 20 years.
Deputy Fire Chief Jason Lundstrom was one of four full-time firefighters in 2004. Hampden had between 20 and 25 on-call volunteers then, but no ambulance service.
"If we needed a paramedic at a fire, we had to call another agency to bring their ambulance to the scene," he said.
Like many departments throughout the state, fewer and fewer volunteers were able to show up at fires and the need for emergency medical technicians continued to rise.
"I do feel the community expects a high level of service today from well trained and knowledgeable people," Bailey said.
Today, the fire and police departments have 12 full-time employees each. The public safety department to which the agencies belong also has a Health and Wellness Committee made up of employees.
The features on the new ambulance are part of the department's focus on its employees' wellness that also includes a promotion of physical fitness and staff members' mental wellbeing.
On the wellness committee's recommendation, the town obtained a $40,000 grant to purchase workout equipment employees use to stay physically fit.
Recently, there has been a greater emphasis on mental health due to the stress of the job, Bailey said. A representative from the Maine arm of the National Alliance on Mental Illness will be part of the department's upcoming annual training.
"We want it to be okay to not be okay," Bailey said.
The department's chaplain, the Rev. Joe Dunton, pastor of Nealley's Corner Church in Hampden, who has a background in public safety, takes part in debriefings after critical incidents in which there are fatalities, such as a recent car crash in which two young adults died.
"The big difference is that we are more proactive than in the past, and the culture has changed," Dunton said. "People are more willing to participate rather than continue with the old school belief that they can tough it out, suck it up and move on."