First new ambulance arrives at Station 44

Fire Chief Edmund Cain of The Villages Public Safety Department looks over the department’s new ambulance at Station 44 in The Villages.

The Villages Public Safety Department has a brand new, bright and shiny crimson ambulance — the first of 12 to come. VPSD’s  gold and black name and logo glittered in the sun as Fire Chief Edmund Cain showed off the new vehicle at Station 44. “I’m happy the first one is here, and I’ll just bide my time (on the others),” Cain said. “At least with this truck we can start the training process and we can start stocking and playing with things.” In January, the Village Center Community Development District unanimously approved the purchase of 12 ambulances for about $2.48 million, and approved  $906,000 for the additional mandated equipment needed to supply each ambulance. Creating an ambulance fleet is a key step toward The Villages Public Safety Department providing emergency ambulance transport starting Oct. 1, a move that Sumter County commissioners approved except for currently suspended Commissioner Oren Miller, who voted against the certification required.

The journey to the new ambulances began last summer after residents complained about slow response times from American Medical Response, the private company under contract with Sumter County.

After much discussion at Sumter County commission meetings and an ad hoc citizen committee throughout the summer and fall, the county decided in September to end its contract with AMR and allow VPSD and Sumter County Fire and EMS  to work toward the Oct. 1 date to operate their own separate ambulance operations. 

Throughout the process, Villages residents like Kate and Bill Svagdis, of the Village of Bonnybrook, voiced their support for VPSD and a need for quicker ambulance arrival times.

“Two incidents happened where somebody needed an ambulance,” said Kate, who is part of her village’s Neighbors Saving Neighbors AED program. “The fire truck came right away, which is great, chief came right away, the police came right away, but the ambulance took 40 minutes to get to our patient. So that’s bad.”

Kate is excited that the ambulances have started to arrive.

“That is fantastic,” she said. “It’s really super.”

The new ambulance and the 11 others hit the streets on Oct. 1, as the contract with American Medical Response ends Sept. 30, Cain said.  

The department is awaiting the arrival of the other vehicles and ordering new equipment for them such as radios, computers, medications, air packs and even a device that will do CPR, Cain said.  

The newest and most exciting piece of equipment already on the ambulance is a motorized and battery-operated stretcher. 

“It’s completely motorized now,” Cain said. “It will reduce back injuries and is safe for the patient. All 12 trucks will have the same type of structure, so that’s a big advantage.” 

The ambulances also automatically lower themselves about 6 inches when the back doors open, making it easier to load the stretchers and step in, Cain said.

This ambulance’s twin is on its way to the FDIC International national fire conference in Indianapolis for a few weeks. FDIC International approached Cain and asked to display the ambulance at the conference, he said. 

Most ambulances have an EMT and paramedic on board, but some of VPSD’s might have two of the more advanced trained paramedics, Cain said. Each ambulance can fit two patients. 

VPSD personnel soon will begin training on how to use the equipment, how to stock the trucks and how to drive them, because they differ from the other VPSD vehicles, he said. Supply chain issues are causing some delays, but they expect to have all the vehicles and equipment before Oct. 1, Cain said. 

Kenny Blocker, district manager of the Village Community Development Districts, is excited that the first ambulance has arrived and that all the hard work done by his department since this past summer finally is coming together. 

“We’re still managing that whole process,” Blocker said on the challenge of securing 12 ambulances in the current market. “Unfortunately, we’re facing all of these supply chain shortages right now. It’s a monumental task that we’re putting together, but we’re working through the issues, and I know we’ll overcome it. But that is a big reason why it’s so nice to see that first one roll out, and we’ll have more coming in the next couple months.”

The arrival of the next 11 ambulances is expected as follows: four in May, five in August  and two in September, Cain said. 

The arrival of the ambulances is perfectly timed with efforts to establish an  independent fire district within The Villages. A bill sponsored by Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, successfully passed in the Florida Senate (39-0) and the House of Representatives (116-0) in March, and now is awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis. That will allow the issue to go before voters on the ballot this fall. 

A fire control district that is independent of county control would allow The Villages to tailor its resources to the unique needs of the community that stretches beyond Sumter County, by creating agreements with other government entities. 

The new district’s boundaries would include all of The Villages in Sumter County, with some surrounding areas outside the community but within The Villages Public Safety Department’s service area. 

Areas elsewhere in Sumter County would continue to be served by the county-run Sumter County Fire and Rescue.

The district would be able to raise its own funding and determine its own spending so Villages residents would know precisely where every penny was spent.

The district would be governed by an elected board.

Staff Writer Veronica Wernicke can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5307, or veronica.wernicke@thevillagesmedia.com