Delaware County's chief of emergency medical services says an ambulance upgraded to better serve obese people is "a regional asset."

Delaware County's chief of emergency medical services says an ambulance upgraded to better serve obese people is "a regional asset."

Chief Mike Schuiling of Delaware County EMS said his department put the "bariatric ambulance" into service at the beginning of August. The ambulance previously was part of the department's backup fleet before it received more than $25,000 in upgrades, which included improvements to the vehicle's cot, ramps and winches.

Schuiling said Delaware County EMS for years has been researching a feasible way to make lifting and transporting larger patients safer and more comfortable.

"It's been a very long process," he said. "I'd say we've been looking into this for (more) than 10 years."

Schuiling said the improvements' costs always held the department up, until it received a grant administered by Central Ohio Trauma System that funded almost all of the project. The county did have to pay $1,000 to send the vehicle back to its manufacturer to have the upgrades installed.

The ambulance's new cot can hold a person weighing more than 1,500 pounds -- though Schuiling cautioned that the use of the vehicle will not solely be determined by a person's weight. He said a decision on whether to use the ambulance largely will be based on a person's body surface area.

The upgrades to the ambulance will not eliminate the need for medics to lift larger patients, but they should limit the lengths of the lifts and offer assistance. In turn, the upgrades should help prevent serious back injuries for medics.

Schuiling said the cost of one serious back injury likely would exceed the entire cost to upgrade the ambulance.

Along with his staff, Schuiling said he hoped the ambulance gave peace of mind to county residents. He said he previously was concerned that residents who worried about how they would fit in an ambulance may have avoided contacting the department.

"These individuals may or may not be calling 911 for fear of the loss of dignity," he said.

The bariatric ambulance will not include any markings that distinguishes it from a typical county ambulance.

Schuiling said the ambulance is the first of its kind in Delaware County, although the Delaware Fire Department has a bariatric cot that can be installed in its units when necessary. He said he sees the unit as an asset that can be used anywhere inside the county, and even in specific emergencies in neighboring counties.

Schuiling said bariatric care continues to be an increasing concern among EMS officials across the country.

"It's not something that's unique to Delaware County," he said. "It's something that the populous of the entire U.S. is dealing with."