Back office teams are striving to ensure that ambulance stations across London are best-placed to respond in the event of a new wave of Covid-19 cases – with a little help from Mercedes-Benz Vans.
When lockdown was imposed, operations at the manufacturer’s national Training & Development Centre in Milton Keynes were suspended. Rather than leaving them to stand idle, however, Mercedes-Benz loaned seven of the vans it uses to deliver technical instruction, to the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust.
These vehicles – a pair of 3.5-tonne Sprinters and five mid-sized Vito models – were allocated to staff engaged in a variety of roles. “It was the height of the pandemic and we were extremely hard-pressed,” recalled Head of Fleet Strategy & Sponsorship Chris Rutherford.
“Our Vehicle Resourcing Centre used the vans to move people and all sorts of materials including PPE around the organisation. In logistics terms, as with everything else, the pressure we were under was unprecedented, and it was ‘all hands on deck’.
“The loan of these vans meant we didn’t have to go to the additional expense of renting, which was very welcome. We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve received.”
Although most of the vehicles were returned to Mercedes-Benz HQ in June, the loan period on one was extended so it could be used to complete a programme that entailed updating the IT systems at ambulance stations throughout Greater London.
The Trust runs a fleet of 538 front-line, accident and emergency ambulances, every one of which is based on a 5.0-tonne Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Last year alone, it took delivery of 112 new 519 CDI chassis with 190 hp 3.0-litre V6 engines and automatic gearboxes, which are fitted with purpose-designed box bodies by leading specialist Wilker.
These ambulances operate from a network of 69 stations, all but a small handful of which have received visits over the last three months from the Trust’s Covid-19 IT Response Team.
The Vito 119 CDI they used is a Tourer variant, and capable of carrying a driver and up to eight passengers in comfort and safety. However, the flexible, quick-release rail system meant the two rows of seats in the passenger compartment were easily removed, so the extra-long L3-bodied vehicle has proved ideally suited to the task of delivering new equipment and removing old hardware for recycling.
Smartly finished in metallic black with alloy wheels, the van is powered by a fuel-efficient 2.0-litre common-rail turbo-diesel which produces a sprightly 190 hp. This output is transferred to the rear wheels – other Vito models are available in front-wheel drive form – via a nine-speed 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission.
Its top-of-the-range SELECT specification, meanwhile, includes chrome detailing in the instrument and door panels, the Multifunction steering wheel with trip computer and paddles for making gear changes, TEMPMATIC air conditioning, and Headlamp Assist with rain sensor which automatically adjusts wiper intervals.
“The Vito certainly made a positive impression,” continued Mr Rutherford. “Driving all over London is hard work, particularly now that traffic levels are more or less back to pre-lockdown levels.
“But colleagues told me the Vito is so well appointed that the miles just flew by. They were delighted when they learned that Mercedes-Benz Vans had agreed to extend the loan period for another month so they could get round the remaining ambulance stations and complete the installations.”
The London Ambulance Service NHS Trust has been running Sprinter-based A&E units for many years. Chris Rutherford added: “It’s the right vehicle in terms of weight, performance and the availability of an automatic gearbox, and has proved over the years to provide the outstanding reliability which is essential for front-line operations.
“We also enjoy an excellent relationship with Mercedes-Benz Vans, and this has been illustrated by the manufacturer’s kind offer of loan vehicles to help us negotiate the most challenging period that any of us can remember.”
Steve Bridge, Managing Director at Mercedes-Benz Vans UK, added: “The people of this country owe a huge debt of gratitude to the front-line ambulance crews and all of their NHS colleagues who have worked so bravely in the face of the pandemic.
“Against the backdrop of their heroism ours was only a very modest gesture, but we were nevertheless delighted to have the opportunity to support the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust which bore the brunt of infections in the early stages of the outbreak, by providing additional vehicles on a loan basis. It’s gratifying to know they were put to such good use.”