Letter Re: An Adequate Bug Out Vehicle (BOV)

Hello JWR,
I have a comment for the recent article by Ed in Kentucky. He listed several good points that include: debris passage, water passage, off-road ability, range, and tow capacity. I’ve seen some great pictures of School buses, Trash trucks, work vans built up to be livable and what I call “sleeper” vehicles. Imagine an ambulance in the exact same scenario. Instead of using the more common Ford E-150, and then build it up (with shelves, extra fuel tanks, interior stuff, etc.), get an Ambulance and build it down.

Run through Ed’s list again – scroll down now and come back – look at all the “upgrades” you didn’t have to buy.

Here ARE some things you will have to buy: Lights: You can not legally drive our big bad ambulance around town looking like an ambulance. RED and BLUE are always demand Right-of-way for Ambulance, Fire, and Police services. Be very careful of Green and Blue lights for volunteer services as many times green is also considered HAZMAT. So legally, [in most jurisdictions] yellow/amber/orange are “Requesting right-of-way” or danger/ safety lights and are okay along with white lights for any vehicle. I had to replace 14 lights @ 12.50 each. and replace the red spinners to yellow in the light bar. Paint them black, take off the red lenses, whatever.

You have to peel the stickers off: If your vehicle looks like a Ambulance then [in many jurisdictions] you have the legal responsibility to stop and render professional aid when hailed. Example: Let’s say there is a heart attack victim who calls 911, and unbeknown to you, you drive your “ambulance” right by their house and keep right on going. They are trying to flag you down with 911 on their cell running after you. You’re going to jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 dollars.

I’ve come to recognize that Fire trucks Police cars and Ambulances have certain upgrades that make them reliable in time of need, and after a time, they become very expensive to maintain at par levels. So they sell them at auction houses, what have you, and then buy next years best model. Well all those Ambulances and fire trucks are still Gigantic Tool boxes on wheels.

I have a 1980s vintage Ford Chateau 350 with a Horton box, gasoline 460cc V8 engine, Automatic transmission, Dually rear axle RWD just loaded with tool boxes, lights and sirens.

The problems: The VIN is only 7 digits (instead of the now-standard 13 or more) and “old enough” to make insurance raise an eye brow (clearly I’m not insuring as an ambulance, but just a work van. 2WD – they do make 4WD versions Very thirsty – 8 MPG? but two huge gas tanks to accommodate. Looks like an ambulance and therefore carries legal liability. I was teased by my friends only a few times. Not real easy to “lock” and make secure. They are a lot better than an RV door as far as security, but not really “hardened”. (Maybe look into an older Wells-Fargo armored truck) The light-brown basket-weave interior linoleum is just awfully ugly. It’s easy to just mop anything out however.

The Assets: Horton Ambulance box, mid 1980s vintage Type III Dually wheels, Ford Chateau E-350 parts availability, and partially EMP proof. There is a military designed box that sits on the rear of a Hummer or trailer that acts as an EMP-proof unit designed for electronics and reliable battlefield comms. Well, I think an ambulance with its solid metal skin may just fit the ticket quite nicely. (Yes there is glass in a door every once in a while – sigh.) Lots of white light inside. Lots of white light outside in the form of spot lights. All Halogen even. Lots of heat and air conditioning. (Mine just happens to need R12 coolant, far superior in cooling ability than its noble R134a counterpart, but also quite a bit more expensive, being so rare.)

Very clean wiring and electrical system including a 230 Amp Alternator (as a comparison, many house in the US only have a 200 Amp breaker box for their mains.) You really haven’t seen quality electrical until you’ve seen this wiring. RVs don’t even come close in serviceability and troubleshooting. (I do have barrel connectors all over the place however I’m not really fond of this but…) An Ambulance is on a higher playing field as far as quality and reliability are concerned. Other commercial or consumer grade cars trucks and vans have nothing on an ambulance. AMR, EMR, and other professional Ambulance companies have to pay huge money to buy an Ambulance brand new, get it certified with all the required codes and quality checks, and have to pay to keep it in working condition. Then it is always stored indoors and serviced by professionals perhaps more often than even school buses, tow trucks, police cars, and maybe even fire trucks. Did I mention it already has a 110 VAC using the standard plug? That is awesome. Dual batteries, monster alternator, and a shore line. Lots of clean AC and DC power.

My use for it when I bought it was to make it a mobile computer lab. I am quite versed in fiber channel, iSCSI and networking and after I was laid-off from a major computer firm this past summer 2010; I wanted to go into business for myself fixing business machines – say a remote PC/MAC/UNIX server “ambulance” (and a mobile bill-board for advertising even).

Back to the ambulance: Often there will be a lot of hours on the engine where no mileage was logged, just sitting in a parking lot waiting for a call to come in. So the default Ford cam shaft is fairly relaxed. I knew this going in so we replaced the cam to something “a little more aggressive”. Hint: Have you ever seen an ambulance lift it’s front wheels off the ground from a stop light? It’s a sleeper.

I would like to have either the natural gas version, or the diesel (preferred). But, it’s a work in progress. I have seen some diesel versions that “need engine work” with starting bids listed at $1,000. (New ones are in the $240,000 range) I’m not affiliated, but check out AmbulanceTrader.com.

Disclaimer – I felt I needed to have a disclaimer, but you’re all grown adults and know what you need to do to take care of things. I imagine a working pumper fire-truck next to your property with a large size water tank nearby would make a invaluable addition to your home in the case of a forest fire. I imagine one may be able to put the lights back on after TEOTWAWKI and have some kinds of respect, but maybe it’ll attract marauders to the potential of medicine. Who knows?

They are of course not always on sale, or cheap enough to buy, but when they are, buy ’em! And then try to figure out how to park them in your driveway. 🙂