PALM DESERT, CA -- The city of Palm Desert in southern California unveiled its new compressed natural gas-powered ambulance and medic unit on Jan. 22 at the city's Fire Station 33. 

Confronted with the need to replace an aging diesel ambulance and medic unit in February 2009, the Palm Desert City Council directed staff to explore the possibility of purchasing an ambulance powered by CNG. CNG burns much cleaner than gasoline or diesel and is produced domestically. 

Because CNG-powered ambulances did not exist in the United States, city staff investigated whether one could be built. A committee composed of city representatives, industry experts, and county and state firefighting officials studied the options. They decided that the most economically beneficial approach to create a CNG unit would be to modify existing ambulance components. 

The city purchased a Frazer Type III 14-foot patient compartment and a 2009 Ford E450 6.8L gasoline chassis. Combining these elements and changing them to allow the installation of a CNG engine and fuel storage tanks required innovative design and engineering work by Frazer Ambulance. Frazer Ambulance built the approximately $186,000 vehicle over a six-month period at the company's headquarters in Houston. 

In December, the ambulance was delivered to Palm Desert, where final changes, including Palm Desert Fire Department markings, were applied. 

The unit will be based at Fire Station 71, located at Portola Avenue and Country Club Drive. Station 71 was selected because of its high call volume -- an average of 200 ambulance calls per month. 

The ambulance was purchased using money from city funds dedicated for firefighting and public safety. City staff has applied for federal grants to defray its cost.