Launch Slideshow

Ambulance Finds Second Life as a Work Truck

Ambulance Finds Second Life as a Work Truck

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    One of the main attractions of a used ambulance is the large amount of accessible storage on the exterior of the module (the box behind the cab). All of the compartments are lockable and have built-in lights and double weatherstripped doors.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    This broom closet-size compartment just behind the cab contains a folding miter saw stand. Note the 15-amp 110-volt AC receptacle to the right of the opening. It is powered by a 1500-watt inverter and is one of three receptacles on or in the module.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    The center compartment on the left side of the module contains a shelf that has been adjusted so there is space for miter saws above and tool cases below.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    This compartment at the rear left side of the ambulance is one of the author's favorites because it's large enough to hold a tablesaw on its stand - at a height that makes it easy to load and unload the tool.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    The right side of the module contains two tall compartments plus a door to the interior. Note the two clear lenses just down from the roof--those are scene lights, which can be used to illuminate the area surrounding the ambulance.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    Same view as in the previous slide--only here the doors are open. The rear compartment has a vertical divider and you can see through the door to the module that there's a step up to the floor of the interior.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    The forward compartment contains several adjustable shelves. This shot is from close enough for you to see the quality of construction: the thick door add heavy latch, the stop at the top of the door, and the weatherstripping on both door and jamb. The module is aluminum with stainless steel hardware so it won't rot out the way many service bodies will.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    If it were not for the name of the author's company on the back of the vehicle it would be easy to mistake it for the ambulance it used to be.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    With the rear doors open it's easy to tell this is a contractor's truck. The bumper is low so it's a short step up to the floor, and the ceiling is 6' high. Note the window at the front of the module; it can be opened to allow long material to extend into the cab. This allows the author to haul 18' trim with the back doors closed.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    Even with the exterior compartments there is still plenty of room inside the module. The open floor area is 50" wide by 12' long.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    As originally configured, there was a padded bench along the right side of the module. The cushion is now being used as a platform for a series of soft tool bags. This area can no longer be used as seating because the author installed a shelf above it - shown here with multiple Husky tool boxes strapped in from the side.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    The bench on the right side of the module is built like a window seat--with a hinged top that can be opened to access storage below. The author keeps hoses, cords, and long items such as levels and crow bars in this space.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    On the left side of the module is a built-in seat, a couple of countertops, and several storage cabinets with sliding glass doors. If you look closely you can see the eye-bolts the author installed so he can strap items in place, and the metal cleat he screwed to the floor to keep the bins on the right from sliding around.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    When the van came from the factory "ambulance" would have been printed in reverse on the hood (so it could be read in a rear-view mirror). Those markings are usually decals so they are easily removed when the vehicle is converted to non-emergency use.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    When the ambulance was converted to non-emergency use the sirens had to be disabled. The strobes can be used but only if the lenses are changed to amber. Using the original blue (fire or EMS), red/white/blue (ambulance), or red/white (fire) could result in arrest for "impersonating a first response vehicle".

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    This photo is dark because it was taken at night. It's of the front left exterior compartment. Note the lights inside the compartment. The light coming down from above is from one of two scene lights on that side of the module.

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    Phil Herzegovitch

    This was shot in the dark, using only the ceiling lights inside the module. The light coming down from above the door is from the two scene lights on the back of the vehicle. There are scene lights on all four sides of the truck so you can provide 360 degrees of illumination.

Like many remodelers I've worked from a variety of vehicles—all used when I got them. I started out with a 1/2-ton Chevy pickup and went from there to a Chevy 20 series van and then later to a Ford Econoline panel van. After the panel van I wanted something bigger so I bought a used "short" school bus, a '92 E350 with single rear wheels. The bus lasted 6 years and when it was time to replace the thing I decided I wanted something more versatile and was considering buying new.

I looked at extended vans like the Sprinter, and every conceivable configuration of service bodies on one-ton chassis. But the cost of these vehicles was shockingly high, even without a complete fit-out, and with my wife expecting twins I decided it was not the time to buy new. A short time later I saw a locksmith drive by in a retired ambulance and that gave me the idea for my next work vehicle.

After fruitlessly searching on auction sites like eBay I found a website called ambulancetrader.com. There were several listing relatively nearby but none of them panned out. Then I found a unit for sale in NYC, a 1993 E-350 SuperDuty Ford van with a 7.3L normally aspirated diesel engine. It was owned by a crane operator and had most recently been used as a mobile office and rigging supply truck (he had three). I bought it from him for $1,800.

For me, the main attraction of a used ambulance was all the exterior accessible storage in the box, or "module". One of the compartments is large enough to fit my job site table saw and accessories—at a height where the saw was easy to lift. All the compartments are double weather stripped, illuminated and lockable. And the box is aluminum with stainless steel hardware so it won't rot out like a service body.

The interior of the module has 6'-0" of headroom and all kinds of built-in storage cabinets. Between the cabinets is a clear floor area 50" wide by 12' long. I can get a 24' extension ladder inside with the doors closed—or 18' trim if I'm willing to run it between the seats of the cab. A built-in 1500-watt inverter powers three 110-volt receptacles.

The vehicle required little in the way of conversion. By law the sirens had to be disconnected and the ambulance markings removed. Fortunately, the markings were decals and came off easily. If you swap out the strobe lenses for amber colored ones you can use the strobes for towing and/or blocking traffic in the normal course of work. They have to be amber; anything else can be construed as "impersonating a first response vehicle". Blue denotes volunteer fire or EMS, red/white/blue is for ambulance or police, and red/white is for fire.

In addition to strobes the exterior is equipped with scene lights that can provide 360 degrees of illumination around the vehicle. The scene lights are particularly handy early and late on short winter days.

The ambulance had 97k on the clock when I bought it. In the six year's I've owned it the only major repairs it required were a new transmission and injector hoses. I upgraded the rear springs to increase the ride height and load capacity—but that was by choice. Everything else that has been done to the ambulance falls into the category of normal repairs: brakes, tires, battery, and regular maintenance. I spend about $2,000 per year to repair and maintain the vehicle, which is extremely reasonable given the age and $1,800 price tag of the van.

It has a gross weight of about 13,000 pounds and gets 10-11 miles per gallon. Where I live, in Connecticut, the ambulance is deemed a combination vehicle so commercial registration is not required. I spend $100 per year for registration and $400 per year for insurance.

Ambulances are not hard to find once you know where to look. They are categorized as follows:
Type I is pick up chassis based, dual rear wheels and can be 4WD
Type II is a modified van, usually just the top popped up
Type III is van cutaway chassis with dual rear wheels, what I have.
Mini Mods are same as type III, but with single rear wheels and a little narrower
Medium Duty is a truck chassis (International, etc.) and a bit bigger

These vehicles are typically very well-maintained; they have to be because lives depend on it.
Low mileage usually indicates use by a fire department, while higher mileage indicates a transfer vehicle used mostly on the highway. Brand new ambulances sell for well over $100k. But by the time those vehicles are 10 years old they can be gotten for $8-10k.