City fire officials believe they're blazing new territory using state-of-the-art trucks that are half fire engine and half ambulance.

One such combination pumper-transport - fully stocked with both firefighting and medical equipment - is already in operation. A second is on order. The cost of each combination unit: $247,000.But Sandy Fire Chief Jacob G. Nielson is convinced the trucks - the first of their kind in the state - will save the city anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000.

The reason is simple.

The city has been responding to all medical calls with two units - an ambulance and a fire engine. When a patient was transported to a hospital, the engine was parked. That crew accompanied the ambulance.

"The operating costs will be cheaper because we will only be running one unit," Nielson said. "We will also be cutting down on maintenance and replacement costs."

But some firefighters from neighboring cities are concerned that in cutting costs Sandy will also be cutting its fire department's efficiency. They say privately they're worried they'll have to fight Sandy fires if Nielson's units are tied up on emergency medical calls.

"It will diminish the number of units we have responding on the street - which is good - while providing the same service, which is also good," Nielson said. "We anticipate there will be few times we'll have to invoke the Mutual Aid Agreement. But very rarely (now) do we run out of units (nor) are we incapable of handling our own calls in Sandy."

Salt Lake County Fire Chief Larry Hinman doesn't expect the situation to change when the new units are in operation.

He said it is conceivable that Sandy's fire engines could all be at hospitals and unable to respond to fires. But so far he has not heard of any such incidents and has received no complaints from his firefighters.

Sandy should be commended for trying something innovative, said Hinman, adding that fire departments are notoriously resistant to change. The reason the county isn't interested in buying similar trucks is because the county doesn't provide ambulance services.

"But it's an interesting concept," Hinman said. "In all honesty, they need enough time to let the concept work itself out without criticism from other firefighters."

To assure his city is covered, Nielson will have back-up units.

Besides the two new combination units, the city has purchased a 55-foot Telesquirt engine at a cost of $213,000. Additionally, the city will keep in reserve its two pumper engines and one of two ambulances it currently owns.