Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, July 19, 1999

Innovation and quality make North Central Ambulance unique

By Luis Puga

Just over 10 years in the business, North Central Ambulance Sales and Service has developed quickly and uniquely.

"We really came into it backwards," owner Jerry Pawelk said.

He explained that his other business, Jerry's Transmission, had already been doing service on emergency vehicles. In 1988, he was approached by Braun, an ambulance manufacturer, to sell its line of vehicles.

From there, the business expanded to selling ambulances for other companies such as Medtech and Medico. North Central also sells rescue trucks and fire trucks as well.

North Central is unique because it is one of just three distributors in the country that is also qualified to repair and refit emergency vehicles.

Fred Pawelk, who handles sales and is Jerry's son, said that status stretches the company's sales market across the midwest. North Central has customers as far away as Virginia and Pennsylvania.

A big part of the business is remounting vehicles. That process allows a new chassis to be fitted with a refitted box. The box is where a patient would ride in the ambulance.

That service is valuable to all types of customers, large or small, because it cuts the cost of a vehicle by a third. It also allows North Central to customize the vehicle.

Jerry Pawelk illustrated by showing a vehicle in the middle of being remounted. The box is currently being fitted with cabinets to carry the necessary gear. The cabinets can be tailor-made because North Central has its own cabinet shop.

Both Fred and Jerry Pawelk agree that each order is different and North Central is flexible enough to meet those needs. When dealing with a new customer, the Pawelks begin by asking what the customer wants to see in the vehicle.

This flexibility comes with knowing the unique properties of a distinct vehicle.

Fred Pawelk said, "They're kind of a specialized beast. They've got a little bit different set-up than a regular Ford (90 percent of the chassis are Fords)."

This knowledge not only requires training, but being able to pass strict inspections.

Ford does annual inspections on a point system, evaluating the service, quality control, records, and working process of North Central. It also tests to see how well North Central follows the federal motor vehicle regulations.

"You either make it or you don't make it," said Jerry Pawelk of the inspection. Passing inspection certifies them to be a Quality Vehicle Modificator, which allows them to remount vehicles.

However, quality is not North Central's focus only because of regulations. Both Pawelks are volunteer firemen for Lester Prairie, as well as four other employees. Jerry is the fire chief.

That experience has taught them the importance of putting out a good product.

"You're talking about the most important vehicle in town. Somebody's life is probably going to depend on it," said Fred Pawelk.

Moreover, quality also makes good business. Fred Pawelk added, "If you think about it from a business standpoint, you're better off selling something with quality that is going to serve the people well, that's going to be there when you need it."

In fact, North Central tends to sell higher quality, and therefore more expensive, vehicles. The advantage to the customer is not only their reliability, but also that they can be remounted.

Like any medical equipment, ambulances, rescue trucks, and fire trucks change with new technology needs. North Central has learned to adapt to those changes whether it is refitting a fire truck with foam capabilities or modifying a vehicle for regional diabetes testing.

Beyond that, North Central has come up with some innovations of its own.

One example is adding an extended cab to an ambulance. With paramedics spending eight to 12 hours in a vehicle, the additional room adds comfort, as well as space to store gear. This innovation is North Central's own, with its own mold for the vehicle and patent.

With such a variety of services, North Central deals with many types of customers. Whether it is a small town needing one vehicle, or a large hospital that needs a fleet remounted, either can go to North Central for the job. This makes each transaction unique.

Fred Pawelk observes that where the customer comes from makes the process different as well. He adds that a customer from northern Minnesota will have different needs than Twin Cities customers.

Also, different customers mean different purchase arrangements. In Minnesota, any city that buys a truck has to go through a bid process.

Other states don't have that process and cities can simply purchase the truck without a bidding process. Also, private hospitals don't have to bid either. Jerry Pawelk feels the latter process is more enjoyable, with less headaches and problems.

Whoever the customer, North Central is flexible enough to provide what is needed. After that, regular service and option of remounting is available.

Occasionally, the odd squad car makes it into North Central's service station, maybe needing new electronics or even an anti-theft device. Jerry Pawelk said the anti-theft device was developed from one county's personal experience of losing a car. This is just another example of how North Central has learned to solve their customers problems.

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