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EMS Classics is a feature column I write for Canadian Paramedicine.

It is my attempt at giving the younger generation who work in EMS today, a snapshot into the history of ambulance service.

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Photo courtesy City of Saskatoon Archives

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Column 42 August/September 2013

Verdun's Special Cars

In 1939 the City of Verdun, located on the Island of Montreal, had a population of 60,000. Ambulance service in the city, typical of the era, was provided by several funeral homes and hospitals, but only when their staff was not otherwise occupied. The assurance of availability of an ambulance at all times was a challenge in Verdun as in many other municipalities.

Edward Wilson, a mayoral candidate for the City of Verdun, felt he had the answer to delays citizens were experiencing waiting on the street for an ambulance: he advocated as part of his election platform that the City guarantee the citizens an ambulance would be available for them at all hours of the day and night. Not only that - but the service would be free.

Wilson won the election and in November 1939 the City of Verdun received delivery of two new 1940 Dodge two-door sedans that had been modified for ambulance use. The Montreal Gazette reported under the headline "Verdun gets free ambulance service,": "they are modern cars with a wide door and special interior arrangements to hold a stretcher, ready to rush in response to a telephone call to any spot in Verdun. Residents have merely to call YOrk 1322". (YOrk was a method to help people remember telephone numbers - it is easier to remember YOrk 1322 than 96 1322).

Verdun's "special cars" (A term they sometimes used instead of the word "ambulance") cost only $100 more than an ordinary police car. The cars were operated by the men at the City's combined police and fire department, two men would go on each call.

Prior to loading a stetcher patient into the car the back rest of the front passenger seat had to be lifted up and placed in the trunk.The stretcher and patient could then be carried into the car via the passenger door which had been specially modified to hinge at the rear (suicide style). The head end of the stretcher was positioned on the rear seat; the feet end would rest on the front passenger seat cushion. During transport to the hospital one of the policemen/firemen would drive the car while the other sat on the rear seat behind the driver.

Emergency equipment in Verdun's special cars consisted of a folding stretcher that was stored in the trunk when not in use, a set of wooden splints, two metal first aid kits and a blanket.There is no emergency light , siren or ambulance lettering visible in the photos of this car.

The City of Verdun continued providing free ambulance service to its citizens until 1974 at which time Verdun became a borough of the City of Montreal. Free ambulance service by the Montreal Police Department continued until 1982, but only in cases where private ambulances were not available.

Copyright 2013 Peter Adsten