As Rogers State University student Kenneth Brull watched half of an ambulance dangle from the shovel of a backhoe in June, he couldn’t help but feel a little nervous. After all, squeezing the 3,000-pound ambulance through a window in the Health Sciences building was his idea.
For years, completing vital in-ambulance training had been an exercise in frustration for Brull and other students in the Emergency Medical Services program.
Students had to crowd around an ambulance in the parking lot, exposed to the elements and surrounded by the bustle of daily campus life. Each time the class needed it, the ambulance itself had to be moved from its regular home in the physical plant vehicle yard to a spot nearer the Medical Sciences building.
Last year, Clem Ohman, RSU Emergency Medical Services Coordinator, mentioned the limitations of that setup in passing to Brull. A replica in the classroom, either built from scratch or from a kit available from industry suppliers, would be much better, Ohman said, but such simulators can cost upward of $40,000.
“With state support for higher education being what it’s been lately, I didn’t think it would ever happen,” Ohman said. He didn’t think anything more of it.
Brull, though, had a plan. A millwright in the aviation industry with 23 years of experience and an inveterate tinkerer, he looked at the ambulance and then at the windows on the first floor of the Health Sciences building. “I said to myself, ‘I bet I could get the ambulance box through there if I cut it in half.'” Without telling Ohman what he was up to, Brull measured them both. Sure enough, according to his math, it was technically possible to fit the ambulance through the window one half at a time. He told Ohman about his idea.
Ohman said that he was skeptical at first, but he eventually came around. “The ambulance box would be an invaluable tool for our students and a tremendous boon to the program,” he said. “Plus, we would be the only program in eastern Oklahoma to have a real ambulance in the classroom.”
Brull took the decommissioned ambulance to his home workshop and, armed with a blowtorch, started slicing the box off of the chassis and the front cab. That alone took a week.
During the next 10 months, he continued to chip away at the ambulance job between studying and working full time. “I really just worked on it whenever I could get a few minutes to myself,” Brull said, estimating that he spent more than 100 hours on the project.
Finally, moving day came over Father’s Day weekend. It took Brull six hours to get the rig out of his workshop, advancing the giant aluminum cube a few inches at a time, and onto a trailer.
Once he made it to campus, the RSU Physical Plant crew lent a hand, though they were skeptical about Brull’s plan. “We thought, ‘now that is a crazy idea,’ ” said Nick Leras, a maintenance technician involved in the move. “But when you come into work in the morning, you do what they tell you, so we started talking about how we could do it.”
They opted to use a backhoe to bear the weight of each 1,500-pound ambulance half, tying straps around them and hoisting each from the shovel end one at a time.
Brull said that he had measured and re-measured the ambulance and the window over the previous months, so he was certain that it could be done, but his heart was still pounding as the backhoe shovel lifted the first ambulance half off the ground.
The crew pushed the ambulance half toward the hole. The backhoe arm jerked closer and closer to the brick facade of the Medical Services building, its motion less than surgical.
The first aluminum block slid through the window hole like a hand into a glove, a half inch to spare on each side. The second one went in just as smoothly. A few hours after they’d started, the two halves had been reassembled, and the window was back in place shortly after lunch.
Brull rigged the ambulance’s electrical system to power internal and exterior lights as well as the ambulance’s suction system. Cameras will be mounted inside, which will run real-time video to a 42-inch television mounted to the ambulance exterior so students can observe training exercises without having to jockey for space at the rear doors. The video also can be networked to remote locations, if the action need to be viewed off-campus.
Brull’s work on the project has been entirely pro bono. He even donated the television for the side of the ambulance. “I just want to make the program as good as it can be for the students who come after me,” he said. “If you wanted real-world training before, you had to go outside. Now we are bringing the real world to the classroom.”
Ohman praised Brull’s extraordinary work ethic. “To put in that much time and effort, when you are already studying and working full time, it really speaks to his character. His community service serves as an example to his classmates.”
Even before the ambulance project, Brull always raised his hand when it came time for volunteers, Ohman said. The dedication earned Brull the Chris Rose EMS Leadership Award, which recognizes a student in each year’s graduating class for outstanding leadership and service.
Brull graduated from the RSU paramedic program this spring and is will continue his nursing studies at NEO A&M in Miami. In order to make accommodate his class schedule, he’s had to move to the midnight shift at his job. He says he’ll have to nap twice a day rather than sleep a full 8 hours at a time.
That’s OK, Brull said, he plans to finish what he started, just as he did with the ambulance project. “It’s like anything else,” he said. “You can make it happen if you want to.”