Woman Steals San Francisco Department Ambulance, Crashes on Treasure Island

A civil grand jury report found "more than a few" ambulances "need to be permanently retired."

A San Francisco Fire Department ambulance was stolen during a medical emergency Tuesday morning and crashed on Treasure Island before the female suspect was caught and arrested, police and firefighters said.

The dramatic chase and fiery crash also raised new questions about how the ambulance could have been taken off the steet and the age of the department's fleet, much of which has been replaced following concerns from a civil grand jury report last year.

San Francisco police Officer Grace Gatpandan said authorities got a call about 8 a.m. reporting the ambulance had been stolen from 55 Mason Street in the Tenderloin, and the driver was taking off toward the Bay Bridge. The driver, police said, was driving recklessly and struck at least one other car on Harrison Street. [[382124971, C]]

Authorities used a GPS to track down the ambulance, and police chased it to the eastbound off-ramp of the island in between San Francisco and Oakland, according to Fire Department Lt. John Baxter.

At some point, the driver lost control and the ambulance crashed, and caught on fire. The square red truck was seen balancing precariously on what looked like a guardrail or median. Ferry rider Rasmus Mencke tweeted that he saw smoke on Treasure Island by the Bay Bridge tunnel stemming from the bizarre scene.

The driver was not injured, walked away from the cash and was taken into custody before the ambulance caught on fire, Baxter said. She has not been publicly identified.

What she was thinking by taking off in a red fire ambulance is the "million dollar question," Baxter said. He did note that the ambulance is full of about $75,000 in medical equipment and heavy narcotics, which are triple-locked within the truck.[[382113111, C]]

Baxter said the stolen ambulance is an older model, from 2003, so crews have to routinely leave the keys in the ignition to keep the medical equipment charging. Newer vehicles come with "kill switches" or "anti-drive" features that allow the vehicle to remain on, and equipment charged, but are more difficult to steal, he said. Baxter said officials believe the doors were locked, but the driver's side lock was broken. He added he didn't know whether or not the window was broken during the theft or the crash.

A civil grand jury report in June 2015 dinged the department's aging fleet, saying that they are slower and less dependable and "more than a few need to be permanently retired."

The useful lifespan of an ambulance is 10 years, and in 2014, almost half the fleet exceeded that life span, the grand jury report found.

As of Tuesday, 42 ambulances out of 52 are four years old or less, and nine new ambulances should arrive by August, Baxter said. Some of the ambulances were ordered before the civil grand jury report, Baxter said, and some were ordered afterward. The newest ambulances are expected to be gas powered and would not require being left on to charge equipment. The remaining ambulances are powered with diesel, Baxter said.

He said the grand jury concerns were quite helpful to the department.

The CHP closed the eastbound Treasure Island off-ramp to investigate until about 10 a.m.

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