First, we discussed what vehicle we needed. It had to be able to transport five persons with luggage and equipment and be an all-terrain model, but not too attractive to thieves. Finding replacement parts should not be a problem in Uganda and there should be as few electronics on board as possible that nobody there could repair. These were a lot of requirements! This left us with only a few choices: The Land Rover Defender, the Toyota Land Cruiser J7 and J8, the Mercedes "G-Class" and the Nissan Patrol GR. Due to better off-road abilities, we decided not to go for an automatic model, even though they were so common in Uganda. However, this narrowed down the offers considerably. We would not be able to get a white vehicle as we had originally hoped. Nor were any used Mercedes "G-Classes" available. Nearly all Land Cruisers were automatics with backlogs. Fortunately, Defenders only come with stick shifts, but they were either extremely damaged or extremely expensive. Nor could we find a usable Patrol GR. We discovered that an unusually large number of vehicles had bad motors due to a lack of maintenance and the ever-present red sand dust. After viewing countless vehicles, we finally found a bronze-metallic four-door Land Cruiser J7 in very good condition with few kilometers. The only problem was the small 2.5-liter diesel engine and the automatic transmission. However, it was a first-hand vehicle with all required documents, something not necessarily common in Uganda. We regretted having to give this flawless vehicle a paintjob, but it had to be white. We discussed which equipment could be omitted and that we needed strong winches, as much light as possible, bull bars and a stable roof rack with a roof ladder. Contrary to what we had expected, finding these things and an LED light bar with a siren and front lights was not a problem. However, we had to bring reflective tape and adhesive letters from Germany. After we found and installed all of these parts, the vehicle looked quite different. Since we didn't have our own station yet, we took a garage offered to us for free by a friend who had helped us find and install the parts. However, we quickly discovered that neither the automatic transmission nor normal tires were usable outside of streets. Converting to a 3.0-liter engine with a stick shift was inevitable. The vehicle also needed to be equipped with larger spring deflections and off-road tires. At the back of the vehicle, the third seat row had to be replaced with a fixed shelf system for the equipment and medical technology. A side compartment with a foldable rear seat backrest would allow us to bring a stretcher if needed. Inside, we installed a control unit for the special signal system and a microphone, additional power sockets, map reading lights and holders for navigational and telephone installations. We also equipped the vehicle with chargeable work lights, fire extinguishers and folding spades that are accessible from the seats. We also added the following medical technology: A foldable illuminated work table, a foldable stretcher, an oxygen apparatus, an ECG defibrillator CORPULS 08/16, inflatable splints, a spinal board, a large emergency backpack, a large ampoule medical kit, a suction unit, a medical backpack , a Kendrick Extrication Device system, a first aid kit, a Stifneck bag, a SAM splint bag, a generator, a cable reel, an anti-infection bag and a shovel, a spade, a crowbar, a steel cable, a saw and a large toolkit and spare canisters for the generators and for the vehicle. After all of these measures, the vehicle had become a real emergency vehicle, but also 450 kg heavier. You always find little things to improve. The addition of an aluminum roof-top carrier with tin cutting shears and a hydraulic spreading system are planned!
Finding suitable vehicles for rescue and emergency services in Uganda is not as easy as one might expect. For one, any vehicles imported from continental Europe or the US have the steering wheel on the "wrong" side. This makes it considerably more difficult to move the vehicle under emergency conditions and therefore increases the risk of an accident. Imported vehicles should only be considered for vehicles that cannot be obtained locally. A good example of such a vehicle is the Mercedes Vito 115CDI 4x4 built in 2010 /2011. This vehicle cannot be obtained in East Africa with an ambulance conversion and four-wheel drive. Disinfectable interiors with stretchers are difficult or impossible to find.
When purchasing used emergency vehicles on well-known Internet trading platforms in Germany, one should first look for vehicles in good condition from communal emergency services or fire brigades. Vehicles from private emergency services or ambulance services usually reached the expected lifespan of their mechanical components and cannot be considered for further use for emergency services. Due to their increased operating costs, four-wheel models are relatively rare. Good maintenance and interesting performance can usually only be found for spare vehicles of professional fire brigades, fire brigades of larger establishments and disaster control services of German federal states or, for example, tunnel fire brigades of larger street tunnel operators.
This is how, after a long search, I found a Mercedes Vito 115cdi 4x4 ambulance of a private French clinic near Basel on mobile.de. Well cared for with maintenance documents and an acceptable mileage. The vehicle had been converted according to the wishes of the clinic and featured a number of special installations, such as double air conditioning, a 230-volt converter, various 120- and 230-volt sockets and a second sliding door with a storage compartment for recovery equipment. The vehicle was sold with a Stryker stretcher next to which was a large open space. This seemed ideal for our ambulance project. The vehicle had its chassis raised by 5 cm and all-terrain tires with a high cross-section. Not permitted in Germany, but very useful in Uganda! The additional 8 cm of ground clearance in combination with its large bulky tires gave the vehicle remarkable off-road abilities thanks to its four-wheel drive. The 2.2-liter diesel motor with a turbocharger almost makes the vehicle seem like a sports car, while providing enough performance for strong inclines and soft surfaces.
The existing Whelen LED light bar with Xenon taillights, the front lights and the siren were not changed. We will adjust the exterior lights as needed. unless you want to buy new bumpers every two weeks, a stable bull bar with additional LED lights is indispensible on Ugandan streets. The extra lights are a big help, since there are no street lights in Uganda. The white and yellow reflective adhesive tape with the blue Star of Life representative of Kilimanjaro Doctors gives recognition value to the vehicle. Converting this former ambulance into an emergency vehicle required considerable changes. The vehicle received a small work table with material cabinets below and a stainless steel work area. The open space next to the stretcher received a cabinet with shelves and medicine drawers up to the ceiling. Holders for two 12-channel ECG defibrillators and a ventilator were attached to the ceiling. We equipped the cupboards on the left side of the vehicle with access to electricity with two syringe pumps. In addition, an Accuvac suction unit, an emergency backpack, an oxygen tank and an ampoule medical kit were given places. A Lucas reanimation system, recovery tools, lift pads and a compressor, vacuum mattress, scoop stretcher and a fire extinguisher were placed in the side compartment behind the second sliding door. A Kendrick Extrication Device splint system was installed behind the left side compartment. A small suitcase under the work table contains a microscope and rapid tests for various viruses and bacteria. Three anti-infection kits for the staff were placed into a compartment under the passenger seat. The vehicle is equipped with two oxygen tanks and a Weinmann inhalation module. An Oxylog 2000 may be used additionally. A biphasic corpuls 08/16 and a Zoll M, both fully equipped, are also on board. Portable LED spotlights inside both doors complete the equipment.
The vehicle also includes a navigation tablet with a SIM card, a walkie-talkie, two mobile phone holders, a GPS transmitter and a GoPro live cam. The vehicle carries approx. 250 types of medicine on board
Our new emergency vehicle arrived with the container via Kenya then by land to Kampala.
We rebuilt it so that it can also drive fords through the Nile, as some of the next bridges make a detour of up to one day.
The next ambulance is already on its way from Hamburg harbour to East Africa. The fleet is growing!
Our new emergency vehicle has found its way from Hamburg to Kampala.
After we rebuilt it a bit and adapted it to the conditions here in Africa, it is finally ready for use.
With this growth our fleet will be expanded even further and we have the opportunity to provide more and more people in Kampala with medical aid even faster.