PEPPERELL -- EMTs grabbed equipment and supplies and ran a half mile with their heavy bags, jumping ship after a horrible screeching and grinding sound came from under their ambulance and a bystander saw sparks.
The breakdown was, almost, all in a day's work. "It did not delay care," said paramedic Andrew Perry who was on the crew.
Fortunately, the December call came in during a staff meeting. Four responders jumped in the ambulance to help.
When the aged vehicle lost its rear end at the corner of Groton and Main streets, someone at the station who immediately fired up the other ambulance. The first crew and the second bus got to the call at about the same time.
The ambulance, a 2005 Ford 450 with 143,971 miles racked up, is still in service.
An ambulance usually has a 10-year life span, said Fire Chief Toby Tyler. Over the years, the department has spent $122,610, almost a dollar a mile, on everything from regular maintenance to replacing that rear end and the turbo three times. Twice, that was covered under warrantee.
A replacement has been on his capital plan for some time, he said. An override effort failed a few years ago.
During the May Town Meeting this year, voters called from the floor to purchase an ambulance from free cash. After that failed to happen, the petition was filed.
The town can use free cash rather than borrow, Town Administrator Mark Andrews said. A recent land sale to U.S. Fish and Wildlife netted $70,000 which must be used for a capital expenditure.
In the fall, after the purchase is made, the town could still decide to fund it through a debt exclusion, he said.
Each year, the ambulance service takes in about $500,000 in revenue, Tyler said. It goes into the general fund.
The town owns a second ambulance, a 2012 with 61,000 on the odometer. It is not four-wheel-drive.
Once the funds are secured it could take six to nine months to replace the ambulance, Tyler said. It will be purchased through the state bid list, eliminating the need to go out to bid, but tight quarters in the fire station require a shorter than usual vehicle.
A suitable rig may not be available immediately.
The June 19 Special Town Meeting includes two other articles submitted by citizens' petitions. One is a discussion of regional dispatch and the other a non-binding resolution to void the contract with the Northern Middlesex Regional Emergency Communications Center and to follow the recommendations of the Regional Dispatch Committee formed in 2015.
The town held a workshop on the regional communication center on June 7.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.