Acela Truck Co. mobile vaccination clinic

One of the mobile vaccine clinics built by Belgrade-based specialty vehicle business Acela Truck Co. 

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A Belgrade company that spent the early months of the pandemic making mobile morgue trailers for customers like FEMA has begun the shift to making mobile vaccine trailers.

The mobile morgues are still being produced and used, said Acela Truck Company president David Ronsen. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a relief to be pivoting focus to trucks to keep people alive instead of storing bodies.

“I think it’s just this huge sigh of relief that the demand for storing bodies is dropping and now we’re directly affecting the ability to put shots in people’s arms,” Ronsen said. “We’re really happy to be pivoting. It’s been a very tough year for everybody.”

Acela made a name for itself making high quality specialty trucks after starting about four years ago, filling what Ronsen and the Acela management team saw a niche that was missing in North America.

The company’s primary product is a high mobility truck that could be customized to make it into “all sorts of different vehicles,” like flood rescue trucks and vehicles for emergency responders.

“We claim that it is America’s most capable truck, and it is,” he said. “It will do things and go places no other truck in North America can go, but we always had a plan to expand into your more typical specialty vehicles, like mobile command centers and bookmobiles and mobile health clinics and things like that.”

In March 2020, Acela was contacted by a few federal clients, including FEMA, inquiring about mobile morgue trailers to help store the bodies of COVID-19 victims, which were filling and overflowing from hospital morgues in multiple large U.S. cities.

From a production standpoint, Ronsen said, the morgue trailers and the mobile vaccination clinics are somewhat similar. The company’s 26 employees employ the same construction techniques on the trailers, as they do on many of the company’s products.

“The big differences between the two are the amount of electrical work that needs to be done, and some of the equipment requirements like the low temperature freezers and the air filtration systems,” Ronsen said.

The mobile vaccine clinics, Ronsen said, can be deployed in rural areas or areas having extreme weather instead of stadium-style outdoor vaccine clinics, which only make sense in more populated areas.

“You’re not going to set up a stadium drive-through in Shelby, so the trailers enable health services or hospitals or pharmacies, really, to do outreach almost like they would with a bookmobile,” he said.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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