Article 06 December 2006/January 2007

Exclusive Ambulance Service - Ottawa

This photo, taken in 1954, shows two smartly uniformed employees of Exclusive Ambulance Service in Ottawa, Ontario, unloading the cot from their 1953 Ford station wagon ambulance. Uniforms and equipment have changed drastically over the past 50 years.

The purpose of wearing uniform caps with a shiny badge was to present an image of authority and professionalism to patients, but they also had a disadvantage. Inebriated patients would often confuse the ambulance attendants with police, and would react in a way that made treatment and transport to the hospital difficult.

Neckties soon changed from the tied-around-the-neck variety to clip-on. Ambulance attendants who wore the former soon found it was easy for an unruly patient to grab the tie and choke them, so many ambulance services stipulated that neckties must be clip-on. Rolled up shirtsleeves probably decreased the amount of laundering required and certainly added a "cool" factor to the overall image.

The cot shown is a one-level because Ferno-Washington had not yet invented the multi-level cot. This meant the ambulance attendants had to lift each patient four times - initially to lift the patient onto the cot, then to lift the cot and patient from the ground position into the back of the ambulance, then at the hospital lift the cot and patient back to the ground position, and finally lift the patient from the cot up to the hospital bed. Back strain injury was as common then as it is now, although the average patient weight may have been less.

The station wagon style ambulance shown here was used by many Canadian ambulance services that couldn't afford the larger professionally built ambulances manufactured in the US. However, the two-door style of station wagon that Exclusive is using here was not commonly used as an ambulance because it was too difficult for the attendant to get in and out of the patient compartment. After loading the patient into the back of the ambulance, the attendant had two options. He could walk around and open the front passenger door, fold the backrest of the front seat forward, slide behind it and take his seat beside the patient, or alternately he could crawl into the back of the car on his hands and knees, then take his seat beside the patient. And of course a repeat was required when the ambulance arrived at the hospital. Not very ergonomically friendly!

This ambulance has no emergency lighting on the rear, and has no lettering or markings other than a small Red Cross on the rear and side windows. The Red Cross was the standard emblem used on ambulances because the Star-of-Life emblem had not yet been developed.

The hospital, which the Exclusive attendants are about to enter, appears to have a ground level entry, unlike many hospitals of the time where patients had to be carried up a flight of stairs in order to reach the emergency floor level. Aren't you glad for all of today's modern equipment and conveniences?

Copyright 2007 Peter Adsten

1953 Ford station wagon, Exclusive Ambulance, Ottawa ON

Photo Ottawa City Archives Column