|Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 2006
The Care Givers of Long Ago--Northern
Indiana Ambulance Service
By Larry R. Freels
I had the
opportunity to grow up in rural Indiana during the
wonderful era of the fifties and sixties. My father
operated a small gasoline station in the community where
I spent many happy and carefree hours as a child. Our
town is a small one where news travels quickly when
something catastrophic happens in the area. Many of
these tales were of gravely ill community patriarchs and
horrific vehicular crashes which had required ambulance
transportation. What better place than a neighborhood
filling station to hear, savor and share these stories.
It must be
understood that the funeral directors had plenty to do,
but they still offered to provide their communities with
emergency ambulance service. The truth is that they were
the only ones around with a vehicle long enough that the
person could be transported, comfortably, in a supine
position. During the fifties there were two
funeral-home-based ambulance services in town. The
Burgess Funeral Home had one vehicle that was used as
ambulance and hearse both. For the day, it was an older
vehicle, with red light mounted on the front bumper to
warn drivers of its "speedy" advance.
Funeral Home had two matched combination
hearse-ambulances that were switched after a year's use.
The later was the prominent firm in the community and
traded vehicles every two years. Both firms "always"
used Cadillacs either gray or black in color. It was
1966 when Bendeer's got the first ambulance with a
top-mounted, revolving beacon. One firm's owner said
that he did not want a siren on his vehicles because it
gave the drivers the "bighead!" The DeLaughter Mortuary
brought the first medically oriented ambulance service
to North Manchester (with a siren, even!) in 1968.
LifeMed Ambulance Service now provides our area with
sleek cars, with white side-walled tires and red
spotlight came for fuel I remember looking and dreaming
that I might be one of those who drove them. There was
never a spot of dust on the shining vehicles. The
drivers wore dark, two piece suits and spoke with slow,
distinct speech. There was an aura of awe and respect
that is hard to describe.
This was during the time before EMS training and vehicle
requirements; thus the combination hearse-ambulance.
General Motors Corporation held the trump card in the
production of these prestigious automobiles. Cadillac
was at the top of the list for use in northern Indiana
followed by Buick and Oldsmobile. A fair number were
produced on Pontiac and Chevrolet chassis as well. Many
Buick professional cars were made right here in Indiana
by the National Coach Company at Knightstown. This type
of luxurious vehicles continued to be produced until
1984 when the last "Caddy" was put into service. Federal
EMS regulations had gone into effect mandating the use
of truck-type ambulances. An elderly funeral director
who ceased running ambulance service was quoted as
staunchly stating, "From where I come from, we haul
cattle in trucks; we haul people in Cadillacs!"
I am very
excited about the path that EMS has taken thus far.
Every year there are new trends in care and in vehicles
that make our care even better.
than thirty-five years I have been proud to drive these
"prides of professionalism" in a number of different
venues. My EMS career began in a 1964 Cadillac
Combination and has continued through a 1975 Cadillac
combo. The first van type ambulance that I served in was
a 1974 Dodge Medicruiser. Other units have included
Chevrolet and Ford Type I, II and III vehicles.
Presently, Ford Marque Type III units are being used in
When I no
longer worked in the funeral industry, my interest in
the professional vehicles continued. I was fortunate to
find, and be able to purchase, a 1965 Buick Combination
in 2000. This car was recently traded for a 1982 Buick
hearse which has been modified as a "coroner's
response/removal car." My family, friends and I enjoy
taking "the '82" to nearby parades and Professional Car