Ron Morin of Wilton has the know-how and experience of knowing what is needed in an ambulance/rescue vehicle. Donna M. Perry/Sun Journal

WILTON  — If anyone has the experience to customize an ambulance/rescue vehicle it is Ron Morin. He started out building ambulances decades ago by converting vans to ambulances/rescue vehicles. He used pencil and paper to draw the design and then used plywood, other materials and plenty of tools to create the emergency vehicles in his garage. He built his first ambulance in 1969.

Today the design is all done electronically.

He has grown from being a private ambulance service owner to a Maine auto dealer specializing in emergency vehicles, and owns Sugarloaf Ambulance/Rescue Vehicles on U.S. Route 2 East in Wilton. He uses the knowledge he has gained over the 50 years and his experience as a paramedic, and has a good idea of what a customer needs in an ambulance.

How did you get involved in designing and building ambulances? I was a private ambulance service owner of Sugarloaf Ambulance/Rescue (Service) in Carrabassett Valley from 1971 to 1999. As a private ambulance owner, I didn’t have much money, so I would build my own ambulances from Chevy and Ford Cube Vans, standard vans and actually built two ambulances (from) Winnebago Lesharo Utility Vans. After a few years, other ambulance owners — like Community Emergency Services in Livermore Falls, Able Ambulance in Farmington, Upper Kennebec Ambulance in Bingham and Skowhegan EMS — all came knocking on my door asking me to build ambulances for them. It became very busy, operating an ambulance service and building ambulances too. So, I went shopping for someone to build them, and I would just design and sell them. By design, I mean mostly I would change the interior design of the cabinet layout to be more user friendly. Because as an EMT, and later on (after) becoming a paramedic, I had a pretty good idea on how to make things user friendly. I became a representative for a manufacturer in Manasquan, New Jersey, called P L Custom Emergency Vehicles. After about a year, in 1990, I became an authorized dealer for them, and in January will enjoy a reputation of 30 years representing them in Maine and New Hampshire, delivering more than 650 vehicles over that time period.

What goes into the design work?
Earlier, when I was building for myself and others, it was mostly a pencil-and-paper (project, with) a list of materials, several sheets of plywood and a table saw in my garage, spending nine to 10 hours a day on this “hobby.” Today, it’s all done by writing in a computer  program, sending it electronically to the engineering department at P L Custom and they vet the design, build a blueprint in a computer aided design program and return it electronically to me to present to my customer. As I mentioned earlier, I have a pretty good idea of what the customer needs, because of my 40-plus  years of experience in the back of an ambulance, transporting patients for more than an hour to the near hospital.

I have designed an interior layout called “Medic In Mind” that gives the attendant all the equipment within their reach, without getting out of their seat. This has been a very important item as we focus more and more each day on occupant safety in ambulances. On the outside of the vehicle, it’s all about emergency lighting, which I have focused on light-emitting diodes, in lieu of halogen or strobe lighting. With the latest technology in LED lighting, we have reduced the amperage, prolonged the life of alternators and charging systems, (and) lessened the load on electrical systems. By using LED technology we have increased scene safety and removed moving parts, therefore, reducing down time for repairs.

Do you meet the prospective buyers to see what they need in an ambulance rescue vehicle prior to design?
We will meet with the customer, face to face, after a preliminary phone call, to get an idea of what chassis they want to build on. We will build on many chassis selections, Ford primarily, Chevy, RAM (Dodge) International or Freightliner.

Then, we will design an ambulance with their ideas in mind, adding any new ideas and building a proposal book with the quote and some sample drawings, warranties and a customer reference list. After the first meeting, we send the proposal draft to the manufacturer’s engineering department for review. In a couple of weeks, the proposal is returned to us and we meet with the customer again to get approval before they order the vehicle.

What is the average cost of an ambulance or rescue vehicle?
An ambulance’s cost is typically $150,000 up to $250,000 depending on the chassis selected and whether or not they are asking for a new stretcher, which may add $23,500.

Rescue vehicles are described as “What looks like a fire truck, carries no water, but carries a lot of specialty tools. ” Tools for auto extrication, high angle rescue, trench rescue, breathing air system, lighting and much more. Rescue vehicles are mostly built on custom chassis, like Spartan, and run around $240,000 for a 30-year chassis. These vehicles may run about $750,000 to $1,000,000 and more if they buy new equipment with the purchase.

Are there special details that are required in the emergency vehicle? There are federal requirements in design of ambulances, given to us by the Department of Transportation. It’s called KKK-1822F and is updated in specifications about every three years. The Ambulance Manufacturers Division of the National Truck Equipment Association also has input in design. Ford Quality Vehicle Modifier has their own standard also. All of these are strictly adhered to by the manufacturer.

How long have you been designing and building ambulances?
I actually built my first vehicle for Area Ambulance in Livermore Falls in 1969 and one for Sugarloaf Mountain in 1970-1971. I have been representing P L Custom Emergency Vehicles for 30 years.

How long does it take to build one?
Actual production time is about 120 calendar days, but because of success and backlog, an ambulance will take 8 1/2 months and a heavy rescue vehicle may take up to a year.

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