Fire Fighters gather at Fire Station 1 on Wednesday morning to remember those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, including the public safety personnel who died while trying to rescue those trapped in the World Trade Center towers. (Brandon Wise brandonw@www.smdp.com)

Sitting in a bay at Station No. 2 is a vehicle for change.

It’s bright red, larger than a standard ambulance but easier to maneuver than a traditional fire engine. And it could have a significant impact on how the Santa Monica Fire Department responds to medical emergencies.

The so-called rescue ambulance was unveiled Tuesday morning at the Hollister Avenue fire station as fire officials detailed plans to use it while studying its effects on department operations.

Two firefighter paramedics in the new rescue ambulance will now accompany the standard four-person engine team on medical service calls, but the engine team will leave the scene if it’s determined that the rescue ambulance can handle the situation.

Officials said they believe the rescue ambulance provides more flexibility in how the department responds to emergencies.

“This is a pilot project designed to see if, by responding with two firefighters on an ambulance [in addition to] a fire engine, we can put that engine back in service quicker,” interim SMFD Chief Dennis Downs said. “If it’s a non-life-threatening medical call, the ambulance would be able to stay on scene and put the fire engine back in service, thereby increasing the ability of the fire engine to go on the next call.

The launch of the program comes at a pivotal time for the local fire department, which has seen a significant increase in call volume as Santa Monica prepares for the incoming Expo light-rail line while dealing with traffic congestion and other factors.

Indeed, the arrival of the rescue ambulance and the monthslong study come as the department attempts to meet increased demand on its services.

SMFD responded to more than 14,000 incidents in 2014, 80 percent of which had an EMS component. That marks a 7.5-percent increase over the 2013 figure, according to Deputy Chief Jeff Furrows.

The local department’s call volume is double that of Beverly Hills and triple that of Culver City, Furrows said.

Meanwhile, SMFD isn’t just adding equipment. City Council earlier this year allocated funds to pay for six more firefighters, bringing the total number of sworn members to 114. Six more firefighters are slated to join the ranks in mid-2016.

The rescue ambulance will primarily respond to medical calls in the area south of Olympic Boulevard and west of 14th Street, but officials said it could also be used in other parts of the city.

The department will track 28 data points to evaluate the effectiveness of the rescue ambulance in a 7-month study that will include monthly review by a committee.

Officials want to know, for example, how the rescue ambulance affects response times and whether the two fire paramedics can take vital signs and assist patients as quickly as a four-person team.

“The key to this study is,” he said, “will those two fire paramedics be able to handle that incident so the fire engine can go back into service?”

A report with findings and recommendations will be submitted to the fire chief in June, Furrows said.

jeff@www.smdp.com