CHARLOTTE, N.C. — An exclusive WCNC Defenders investigation is revealing how Medic is replacing dozens of engines on local ambulances after continued breakdowns.
The Defenders team first broke the story in 2018 when WCNC Charlotte found some ambulances were breaking down while transporting patients.
Specifically, the issue is with MaxxForce Engines manufactured by Navistar. WCNC Charlotte has now learned many ambulances with that type of engine remain on the road. Newly obtained maintenance records show ambulances continued to have engine issues throughout last year. Some ambulances dealt with issues such as lost power, stalling, and engine failure, the records show.
If you bought a car with engine problems, you’d likely take it back to the place that sold it to you and that’s exactly what Medic is doing. However in this case, there’s much more at stake.
“It’s inconvenient, it's scary,” says Skip Kirkwood, a former EMS Chief and a consultant for EMS1.com. “Unfortunately, you can't just shut the fleet down and repair them all at once.”
EMS1.com, an online publication, shared the initial WCNC Charlotte Defenders investigation with first responders across the country.
“So that other people in the industry know,” said Kirkwood. “(They’re) better able to address the problem across the whole country.”
In 2018, the Defenders team found dozens of Medic’s ambulances experiencing engine problems. Specifically, it impacted ambulances with MaxxForce engines made by Navistar. Early in the Defenders investigation, WCNC Charlotte asked Medic Deputy Director Jeff Keith if patients were impacted.
“We have not had a single patient care encounter jeopardized by the performance of these ambulances,” Deputy Director Keith previously told WCNC Charlotte.
However, the Defenders team has uncovered some of the very same ambulances continue to have engine issues on the road. According to maintenance records from 2019, there were 21 incidents involving engine related problems, including some units that had issues multiple times. In August, an ambulance transporting a patient broke down because of a coolant leak, records show. Medic says most cases involved non-life threatening calls, but in June an ambulance on scene for the highest priority call had to be driven back to Medic because of a warning light.
“Nobody wants to have concerns over something like the reliability of their ambulance fleet,” Deputy Director Keith previously told WCNC Charlotte.
Since the first Defenders investigation, WCNC Charlotte has learned about a major overhaul of Medic Ambulances. Medic says 29 of its 72 ambulances still have MaxxForce engines. However, 26 of the 29 ambulances have had their engines replaced. Medic says an inspection showed the other three ambulances did not need an engine replacements.
“It wouldn't surprise me at all that it's taken them a year or more to work their way through the fleet,” says Kirkwood.
Medic says released new data showing their making progress: A 46 percent decrease in engine issues from 2017 with 39 incidents to 2019 with 21 incidents.
“As an agency head, I want to be pushing to get them fixed in the most timely manner possible,” says Kirkwood.
Medic says it’s in the process of swapping out Navistar-manufactured vehicles. Five of those vehicles have already been replaced with Dodge models. By the end of the year, the number of ambulances with MaxxForce engines will be down to 13, according to Medic. In the meantime, Medic says if an ambulance should experience engine issues, another unit is minutes away.
“I would hope that another ambulance was available quickly,” says Kirkwood.
Despite the ongoing engine issues, Medic says none of the patients have been negatively impacted. Medic also says they handled the situation in a fiscally responsible way because Navistar made the engine replacements at no cost to taxpayers. WCNC Charlotte also reached out to a spokesperson for Navistar, but have not heard back.