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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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Column 44 December 2013/January 2014

Taber's Volkswagen

In 1912, a group of local coal miners organized the first ambulance service in Taber, Alberta.

First aid classes were held with Dr. Leech as instructor. The Taber Times reported: "Five miners and five of the town's volunteer firemen were successful in passing their certificate examinations in ambulance work".

During following decades local undertakers provided ambulance service in Taber and district, first Samuel Layton, then Thomas Carr, followed by George Humphries.

In 1958 the Taber Volunteer Fire Brigade assumed responsibility for ambulance service. A new Volkswagen ambulance was purchased from Stan Bartram, local operator of Stan's Tire Shop and White Rose service station and an authorized Volkswagen dealer.

The Town of Taber and the Municipal District of Taber Number 14 shared the $3,800 cost of the new ambulance equally.

In the accompanying photo Mayor Carl C. Cook (right) is shown handing over the keys of the new ambulance to John Malinsky, head of the volunteer firemen. The Taber Times reported: "The ambulance is equipped to hold three patients; two lying down and one in a reclining chair. The chair can be carried out with a patient on it. It is a well planned vehicle and should serve Taber for many years."

The ambulance had been built in a factory at Hannover, Germany and came already equipped with stretchers and a forward-facing orange blinker light in the shape of a stylized cross. The AMBULANCE lettering and the large cross on the front of the vehicle were added locally.

Volkswagen ambulances were uncommon in Canada. They were configured with the engine at the rear necessitating an unusually high lift when loading the stretcher and patient into the ambulance. Equipped with just a 4 cylinder, 36 horse power engine, their rate of acceleration and speed capability left much to be desired. Top speed on a straightaway, providing there was no head wind, was 80 km/h (50 m/h). The hospital in Swift Current, Saskatchewan had one of these VW ambulances and it would routinely be passed by highway traffic while on an emergency run!

Taber's Volkswagen certainly was not as elaborate as the Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac ambulances being operated in many Canadian cities at the time, however presumably it met the needs of small town Alberta.

Copyright 2014 Peter Adsten