Volume 15 | Issue 4 | Year 2012

Remember crime movies and television shows produced circa 1972? There was always a scene where a victim was shoved into an ambulance.
Remember the size and style of the vehicle? It resembled a hearse; the only difference was the color – it wasn’t black. Film producers were only trying to remain true to the vehicular technology currently available. Nevertheless, the depicted emergency transport proved an ominous screen presence. “He’s dead,” viewers said.

Likewise, in real life, in the 1970s, an accident or shooting victim stretcher-strapped and lifted into such a disturbingly shaped vehicle might have thought they were headed for the grave instead of the hospital.

Melodramatic exaggeration, perhaps – but considerations needed to be addressed. That’s where Horton Emergency Vehicles came in. The Grove City, Ohio-based company changed the shape and nature of emergency transport vehicles. The new rescue-vehicle structure it purveys gives EMS providers room to move, providing the space where they can effectively carry out life-sustaining functions.

“Company founder Carl Horton built and designed the first modern-day ambulance in 1968,” recalls Horton Emergency Vehicles President John Slawson. “Prior to that, the ambulance industry was pretty much serviced by the hearse-style ambulance. Our company transitioned the vehicle from a hearse to a van. The Econoline van is still in use.”

For good reason: “In transport to a health care facility, EMS providers need to work in a vehicle that enables them to perform life-saving duties in an efficient manner,” says Slawson. “In the hearse-style vehicle, there wasn’t much room to attend to a patient. Carl Horton had a vision, to create a different kind of ambulance.”

That vision led to an enormously successful business.

Today, Horton Emergency Vehicles – now a subsidiary of Allied Specialty Vehicles, a $7 billion specialty vehicle manufacturer based in Orlando, Fla. – is a world leader in building modern-day ambulances and rescue vehicles. As Slawson indicated, the company – and its founder – expanded the parameters of technology, innovation and quality in every aspect of ambulance manufacturing, from the all-aluminum cabinets to the multiplex electrical systems.

“We deal only in aluminum,” says Vice President of Operations Colin Kerrigan, “with rotary punching, brake press and extensive welding. That’s one of our major innovations. One reason we use aluminum relates to health. Many competitors are content to build interiors with wood. We aren’t. Wood can absorb bacteria. Aluminum won’t. Also, wood can explode on contact. Aluminum makes our vehicles much more safer.”

As with innovation, safety is a major concern. Indeed, as the company indicates, few in the industry can compare with Horton Emergency Vehicles when it comes to safety and testing.

This commitment led to Hygee sled and direct impact testing, which then led to the Horton Occupant Protection System (HOPS). This system is a combination of air bags, seat belts and protective resistant cushions that provide protection for EMS personnel and patient.

For, it’s an unfortunate fact that accidents can occur with ambulances. After all, the vehicles travel at high speeds, with drivers that need to navigate through high-traffic roadways.

“Safety is our buzz word,” says Slawson. “We back up all safety features with testing and data. To paraphrase Alan Greenspan, the famous American economist, without data you only have an opinion. Since 1968, everything about our organization has been about safety and innovation. These elements drive the company. We were the first ambulance builder to crash test our vehicles. That goes as far back as the early 1970s. Today, we are the world’s only ambulance manufacturer that provides airbags to help ensure the health and safety of EMS providers and patients. Horton continues to be recognized as the industry’s most innovative ambulance manufacturer.”

Safety coupled with innovation led to more than 100 industry firsts – items such as electric oxygen, V-Tech body mounting and silhouette lighting, as well as HOPS (the Horton Occupant Protection System). “All help to create a safer mobile working environment,” says Vice President of Sales/Marketing David Cole.

Rigorous testing provides the burden of proof. For nearly 45 years, the company has funded programs necessary to prove product integrity. Starting in 1974, it conducted Hygee sled testing to check body mounting, door closure systems, cabinet integrity, body structure and oxygen cylinder mounting. Recent test have used Hybrid III test dummies, fully instrumented to check head strike impacts, G loads, neck loading and seat belt forces. These tests, along with impact and rollover data, provided the information necessary to develop HOPS.

Along with the aforementioned attributes, the company is heavily into customization.

“Today’s EMS providers require customization to meet their needs. The ability to have equipment within arm’s reach is a must.” says Slawson. “We help envision and then we design and create something with our customers to meet their specific requirements. This we’ll do, as long as it meets our high level of requirements for engineering and safety.”

Indeed, Horton Emergency Vehicles is the only ambulance manufacturer that customizes almost every vehicle on the line, the company reports. However, while products are individualized, Horton provides standard features. These include advanced antimicrobial protection on surfaces in the patient area, HOPS for roll over protection; VI-Tech body mounts for advance vibration management and a fully-multiplexed electrical system. Advanced sound control is also a must.

“Our ambulances are not only the safest, but the quietest,” says Kerrigan. “EMS Providers can hear heart and lung sounds as well as blood pressures, without any distraction.”

This company – which produces the most technologically advanced vehicles – does its engineering in a sophisticated facility located in Grove City, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio.

“It’s a standalone building that encompasses 150,000 square feet, which includes 75,000 square feet of assembly and 25,000 square feet of fabrication,” describes Kerrigan.

The company’s focus on continued improvement and product excellence involves Lean manufacturing. In early 2010, Horton became a part of Allied Specialty Vehicles and began a transformative process into this manufacturing concept. The change started with time studies and evaluation to move from teams who built vehicles in stalls to teams who worked together to install the same set of components in each vehicle as it moved down the line. As it is a customizer, Horton moved away from the cookie-cutter assembly-line approach. Lean means it is focused on flexibility, which is important to its customization efforts. “We transformed into a single-flow operational excellence line,” reports Kerrigan. “Allied Specialty Vehicles had a vision to take all of its subsidiaries into Lean manufacturing and operational excellence. As a result, our entire plant has been transformed, and that extends to our service departments and administration activities. So, in the last two years, we’ve become more predictable and, in turn, more efficient and profitable.”

Horton’s highly-trained employees – its team members – are a key part of the company’s success. “The pride and commitment they place in every ambulance is what makes us successful,” says Cole.

Horton’s customer service organization provides timely parts processing, ambulance design troubleshooting, and progress reports on the vehicles that progress through the order entry and manufacturing process. Every step of the way, state-of-the-art training and equipment allow Horton customer service associates to better assist clients.

Thus, relationships last – and that’s on a global basis. “We’re more than regional, even more than national,” reports Slawson. “While our primary sales focus is the United States, we’ve been selling into the Middle East for several decades and have extended our reach into Europe.”

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