Merridale diesel dispensers and fuel monitoring systems are entering service with the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS). The new generation commercial pumps are easy to use with swipe card and push button controls, high performance fill rates and for stock control, they incorporate automatic tank contents monitoring, an additional safeguard to ensure the integrity of the fuel storage installation.

Managing a fleet of ambulances involves a different set of rules to a commercial operation. Clearly the first priority for accident and emergency is to provide swift transport for casualties in need of urgent hospital treatment. Next to speed, the second prerequisite is availability.

As well as improving the availability of depot fuelling facilities, the upgrade has reduced the risk of mis-fuelling errors from mixed fuel retail forecourts. Because of the large area it serves, the EEAS provides all its ambulances with agency cards enabling the crews to refuel at their discretion, either from depot supplies or retail forecourts, according to their deployment.

It was the unreliability of previous depot pumps which resulted in a drift towards external fuelling and as a consequence this led to an unacceptable level of mis-fuelling incidents. Apart from the cost of recovery of the vehicle, each of these occurrences impacts on the availability of an operational unit and weakens the service capability, if only on a temporary basis.

Although external fuelling provides an essential back-up, the ambulance fleet managers have now implemented a more proactive policy, to encourage the crews to refuel from the station pump, whenever possible.

[quote]The new pumps can only be used with the existing fuel card, so this ensures security as well as 24 x 7 access to fuel – whenever the crews choose to fill up.[/quote]

The EEAS has one of the largest rural operational areas in the country. The region covers six counties and it incorporates the former East Anglian Ambulance Service, which has 35 stations serving Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. The Ipswich and Waveney stations (near Yarmouth) provide technical service support and the regional distribution of clinical supplies for a number of smaller stations.

Fuelling facilities are an essential part of the day to day service support. The upgrade of fuelling installations is being carried out on a station by station basis according to the condition of existing facilities. Some fuelling points are being de-commissioned and new investment is being focussed on more strategic locations which are being updated to ensure compliance with the latest standards for fuel oil storage and the protection of the environment.

The project is being managed from Norwich by Bob Copland Estates Manager, Eastern Support Services, working in conjunction with MIS Fuel Monitoring of Wolverhampton.

Depot fuelling eliminates risk of mis-fuelling errors“The new pumps can only be used with the existing fuel card, so this ensures security as well as 24 x 7 access to fuel – whenever the crews choose to fill up,” says Bob Copland, adding. “At Ipswich we dispense between 7,500 and 8,000 litres of fuel a month, so obviously bulk buying is the best thing for us to do.”

Tony Peck the Ambulance Fleet Assistant has adopted a policy of friendly persuasion towards the crews who like to see a ‘happy smiling AFA.’ There is little sympathy for any mis-fuelling culprits.

“Reliability is key,” says Tony Peck. “Since we have restored the confidence with the crews, they are using depot fuel whenever feasible and we have not lost any vehicles because of wrong fuel since the new Merridale pump was installed.”

“Actually we did have one crew which had persisted in fuelling off site, says Tony. They did this on three occasions before making the fatal error. Needless to say all the crews are now using the depot facility and the risk of mis-fuelling incidents has been reduced significantly.”

As another line of defence the Ambulance Service has set up a maintenance contract with Merridale covering the pumps and fuel monitoring. This ensures that the equipment is inspected on a regular basis to ensure 100 per cent availability.

The Merridale FuelFX management software provides facilities for stock control and a full reconciliation of fuel usage. Records from external fuelling can be imported onto the master database to provide a complete record. This is important to highlight any anomalies, unauthorised transactions and keep an eye on vehicle economy performance.

Currently each station is responsible for its own fuel management and re-ordering. Other duties carried out by AFA include preparation and turnaround between shifts when the ambulances have to be cleaned clinically, restocked and oil and tyre pressures checked or serviced as necessary.

[quote]We are very pleased with the new Merridale installation. The system’s reporting functionality enables me to back track over a set period of time and list all the fuelling transactions. After doing our own site audit, everything is copied up and sent to finance department at the start of the each month.[/quote]

It is intended to further develop the regional support stations and most of the medical supplies and gases for restocking the ambulances are now being received into principle stations, such as Ipswich.

Fuel is stored in an underground tank with a capacity of 22.5K litres. Stock is re-ordered as the tank level drops to 4,K litres which allows room for a full tanker delivery of 17.5K litres. The system carries out an automatic dip every 24 hours at 12 midnight.

Tony concludes saying. ‘We are very pleased with the new Merridale installation. The system’s reporting functionality enables me to back track over a set period of time and list all the fuelling transactions. After doing our own site audit, everything is copied up and sent to finance department at the start of the each month.’

The system database includes all of the ambulances and vehicles in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk, which enables vehicles from other stations to use their fuel cards to access fuel. A key is also held by the AFA for any other exceptional transactions. Using standard agency fuel cards fuel allows greater flexibility as the same card can be used for external sources for cases where depot facilities are not within reach.