300 Below, Inc. was featured in the March 2003 issue of JEMS.


Cooling Down EMS Brake Expenses

When Bill Paisley, fleet manager for Jefferson Country (Ky.)EMS, attended an emergency verhicle fleet maintenance conference in Louisville in 1999, he was intrigued by a lecture descrption that promised a discussion of cryogenic tempering of brake rotors. He decided to attend. He soon discovered the process described thad the potential to significantly reduce his brake maintenance expenses.

The presenter was Bob Reed, motorsports division manager for 300 Below Inc., Decatur, Ill., the oldest, largest, commerical cryogenic facility in the United States. Reed quikcly explained to attends that the process for treating brake rotors involved using computer-controlled cryogenic temperatures of -300° F. He claimed that by treating brake rotors, the life of the rotors and the pads increases by 250-400%. He also claimed that cryogenically treating brake drums would imporve drum life and band (shoe) life by 250-400%.

It sounded too good to be true because Paisely knew that one of his most taxing budget expenses involved brake maintenance. He wondered if he was listening to a modern-day “snake oil” salesman.

Paisley soon learned that top racing teams improve performance and reduce wear and breakage by cryogenically treating their race car engines, transmissions, rearends, axles, brake rotors aqnd brake drums. He also learned that manufacturers have their cutting tools cryogenically treated to keep them sharper longer, reduce downtime and improve their bottom line. Top firearm competitors have their gun barrels cryogencially treated to improve accuracy, reduce cleaning time and increase the life of their firearms. It all began to make sense.

After returning from the conference, Paisley decided to test the process. He called Jefferson Country Parts Manager Tony Ponzi and asked him  to have 300 Below treat some brake rotors for this agency’s 1997-1999 Ford E350 ambulances. Paisley decided it wouldn’t cost much to have a few rotors treated, and, if the treatment proved successful, Jefferson Country would realize tremendous savings in brake maintenance costs.

Jefferson Country installed its first treated rotors in the September 1999. Eight months later, Ponzi called 300 Below and told company officials he wouldn’t have believed the improvement in rotor wear if he hadn’t witnessed it himself.

He decided to begin installing treated rotors on very ambulance that needed brake rotor replacement until every ambulance in the fleet was equipped with treated rotors. Today, all of Jefferson County’s 60 amblances, as well as their Ford Expeditions and Exploers, use cryogenically treated rotors.

Jefferson Country also maintains an inventory of trated rotors so none of its vechicles have to return to operation without treated rotors. Its vehicles spend less time in the shop, and the agency purchases fewer brake rotors and brake pads and saves money.

According to Paisley and Ponzi while using untreated rotors, Jefferson County had to replace its pads every 5,000-6000 miles, and the untreated rotors had to be replaced at the same time due to warping and cracking. AFter switching to treated rotors, pads are now replaced about every 12,000 miles and rotors at 24,000 miles. They alos report it’s not unusual for rotors to reach 24,000 miles of life without being turned.

Cryogenics is unique because treated rotors can’t be identified visually or by touch. It’s not until treated rotors are installed taht improvements are noticed, In severe brake usage, fading is noticeably reduced. As more time passes, it becomes apparent that both the rotors and the pads last longer.

If you can’t see or feel any change, it’s natural to wonder how cryogenics work.

The grain structure of a rotor that hasn’t been treated can be referred to as open-grained. It’s rough and abrasive like sandpaper. A cryogenically treated rotor has a grain structure that’s closed. It’s much less abrasive.
Therefore, the treated brake rotor wears the brake pad far less. You might think that if the brake rotors are less abrasive, they would reduce a vehicle’s stopping ability, but that’s not the case. Because the treated grain structure is closed, it provides more pad contact on the rotor and results in great braking.The rotor also becomes stronger, more abrasion-resistant and has stress relieved so it doesn’t warp and crack.

Dave Burkham, owner of Decatur Ambulance, Decatur, Ill., decided to try cryogenically treated brake rotors and pads. He installed a pair on  one of his “in-town” ambulances, a heavily used unit subjected to the stop-and-go braking required to operate in an urban environment. Historically, this unit had brake pads replaced every 5,000 miles.

However, after switching to treated brake rotors, Burkham found that his brake pads didn’t require replacement until reaching 23,853 miles-a net gain in brake life of 357%. Even then ,the reason the trial unit’s brakes were removed was only because the vehicle was totaled in a fire unrelated to the brakes. The fire hadn’t reached the treated rotors, so they were removed and installed on another ambulance. That ambulance continued to be used in regular service until becoming a backup vehicle. It was then used by EMS supervisors until department retired it and sold it to a Ham Radio Club.

The amazing thing: When the vehicle was sold to the radio club, the treated rotors were still in service. Decature Ambulance now has treated rotors on all of its ambulances.

Van Practer is manager of Life Star Ambulance, Springfield, Ill. The rotors on the Prater’s in-town ambulances were warping, cracking and in need of replacement every 9,000 miles. Prater decided to test 300 Below’s treated brake rotors on one of his ambulances. The treated rotors were replaced at 39,000 miles, a net gain of 333% in brake usage. Life Star Ambulance now has treated rotors on all its ambulances. Although Prater schedules replacement of treated rotors at 4,000 miles, he allowed a set to remain on an ambulance for evaluation until 55,000 miles, a net gain of 511%.

While customers whith large inventores of untreated rotors can ship those units to 300 Below ror treatement, the company has developed a process that helps services obtain new, already treated rotors and save on shipping costs. The company now purchases rotors and drums, treats them and stores them in inventory, allowing customsers to order the rotors directly form 300 Below. They’re shipped out the same day the order is received, and the purchaser saves money by only paying one-way shipping costs.

Just as 300 Below tested and developed its cryogenictreatment of brake rotors in the competitive racing vehicles, it is now considering other racing applications for use in the ambulances, including cryogenically treated engines, transmissions, rear ends, axles and turbochargers.

To learn more about this revolutionary process and how it can save maintenance dollars for your service, contact 300 Below Inc., at 800/550-2796, vai e-mail at or visit