The History of Emergency Medical Services(EMS)

Ashley | 31 - 08 - 2020
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Ambulance saves millions of lives every year, but have you ever wondered when the first ambulance service in the US was started? This article helps you understand the history of emergency medical services.

The hospital services were started several 100 years ago, people commute from their places to hospitals or the location of the medical practitioners by walk or through their own vehicles. But the concept of ambulance services started much later. 

In the 1400s, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain discovered the word ‘ambulance’ which indicated the military hospitals that had different types of medical equipment. This was the first step towards the concept of ambulances. Between the 15th century and 20th centuries, the idea of ambulance services had a major breakthrough because of the war. In earlier days, a hammock-based cart was used. Later in the 11th century, during the religious wars, hospitals were set-up to treat wounded pilgrims.

1. ABS Stands for Anti-lock Braking System
  • A. True
  • B. False

In the late 1700s during the Napoleanic wars, Dr. Dominique Jean Larry, a French surgeon in Napoleon Bonaparte’s chief physician noticed the wagons serving as field hospitals to treat the wounded soldiers. This was called ‘flying ambulances’, they were first used by the army of the Rhine in 1793. This is when the idea of ambulances was born. He thought of developing a new wagon that could take wounded soldiers immediately to the nearby hospitals and also would be helpful to bring doctors to the battlefield to provide immediate help. 

Civil Wars

In 1861, during the US civil war, most of the wounded soldiers were not transported through ambulances, instead they were told to walk in order to reach the hospitals. It continued to happen until 1862. At the battle of Antietam, the medical director of the army of the Potomac, Dr. Jonathan Letterman, and other officers decided to follow strict measures to save the lives of several soldiers. They introduced the first US army ambulance in September 1862. Later, the ambulance of the corp act was introduced in 1864. During this period, new changes were made to make the ambulances clearly visible among the crowd. Uniforms were given to the crew members. 

The First Ambulance Service in America

Where was the first ambulance service started? The first hospital-based ambulance service was by a hospital called Cincinnati general hospital in Ohio in 1865. Later, in 1869, Dr. Edward B. Dalton, who is also the inspector of the army of the Potomac in New York City opened another ambulance service and that is how the ambulance services were started. These were usually, horse-drawn vehicles with basic medical equipment accompanied by a doctor. It contained bandages and sponges to provide first-aid. The floor slats were used as stretchers. Later, graduates of the Bellevue’s surgical training program were hired to crew the ambulances. They were offered $50 per month with 12 hours of work per day. In 1867, London’s Metropolitan Asylum Board, in the United Kingdom, received six-horse drawn ambulances in order to carry smallpox patients. 

The first motorized ambulance was invented in 1899 in Chicago and was donated to Michael Reese Hospital. Later, in 1937, Hess and Eisenhardt, a firm of Cincinnati, Ohio that is specialized in designing ambulance produced the first ambulance with air conditioning.

When Was EMS Started?

The hearse or the station wagon style ambulances was inadequate in size for the patient, the medical equipment, and for the doctors to travel. Therefore, the United States EMS system act was written in 1973 and passed in 1974. The new federal specifications are called K-specs. According to the law, only three chasses types of ambulances were allowed. 

  • A truck body vehicle with a compartment
  • A van body vehicle with raised roof
  • A van chassis with a compartment

Even today, K-specs are followed but with regular updates. In the last 10 years, there was a huge growth in the EMS industry. The ambulances are now custom-built. Few of the advancements include Anti-lock Braking System(ABS), audio and visual warnings to protect the crew in vulnerable situations, tail lifts to save time, etc. 

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