Over the past couple of decades, compressed natural gas has become increasingly popular as a fuel for large vehicles because it doesn't produce the sooty black smoke that emanates from older diesels. This week, the city of Palm Desert in California becomes the first in the United States to deploy a paramedic unit/ambulance powered by the clean-burning fuel.

The new ambulance will be officially unveiled Friday, January 22 at Palm Desert fire station 33. Since no manufacturers currently offer an off-the-shelf CNG ambulance package, the new unit was specially built on a Ford E450 chassis by Frazer Ambulance at its Houston, TX facility. The project took six months to complete and cost $186,000. The new ambulance should get a good workout since it will be based at a station that gets an average of 200 ambulance calls a month.

If this project works out, it wouldn't be a surprise to see other cities, especially in California, follow the same path. Perhaps Michigan-based Roush Engineering, which already offers CNG conversions for Ford trucks and vans, will step in with a version for ambulances and other similar vehicles. The press release is after the jump.

[Source: City of Palm Desert]

PRESS RELEASE

PALM DESERT CELEBRATES DEBUT OF NATION'S FIRST CNG-POWERED AMBULANCE

PALM DESERT (January 20, 2010) – The City of Palm Desert will celebrate the unveiling of the community's new compressed natural gas-powered ambulance and medic unit, the first of its kind in the United States, on Friday, January 22, at 11 a.m. at Palm Desert Fire Station 33, 44-400 Town Center Way.

The unveiling ceremony will feature comments from Mayor Cindy Finerty and other members of the Palm Desert City Council and from representatives from the Palm Desert Fire Department, Riverside County Fire Department/CAL FIRE.

The debut of this groundbreaking alternative fuel ambulance marks a historic moment for the Coachella Valley and the nation and continues Palm Desert's tradition of innovation and leadership in the areas of energy independence and environmental responsibility.

Confronted with the need to replace an aging diesel ambulance and medic unit in February 2009, the Palm Desert City Council directed staff to explore the possibility of purchasing an ambulance powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), a fuel that burns much cleaner than gasoline or diesel and that has the added benefit of being domestically produced.

Because CNG-powered ambulances did not exist in the United States, City staff investigated whether one could be built. A committee comprised of City representatives, industry experts, and officials from the Riverside County Fire Department/CAL FIRE officials studied the options and decided that the most efficient and economically beneficial approach to create a CNG unit would be to modify existing ambulance components.

The City purchased a Frazer Type III 14-foot patient compartment and a 2009 Ford E450 6.8L gasoline chassis. Combining these elements and changing them to allow the installation of a CNG engine and fuel storage tanks required innovative design and engineering work by Frazer Ambulance, which built the approximately $186,000 vehicle over a six-month period at the company's headquarters in Houston, Texas. In December, the ambulance was delivered to Palm Desert, where final changes, including Palm Desert Fire Department markings, were applied.

The unit will be based at Fire Station 71, located at Portola Avenue and Country Club Drive, where it is scheduled to start responding to calls. Station 71 was selected because of its very high call volume, with an average of 200 ambulance calls per month.

The ambulance was purchased using money from City funds dedicated for firefighting and public safety. City staff has applied for federal grants to defray its cost.


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