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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Winnipeg Police Ambulance, 1963 Cotner-Bevington Oldsmobile

Photo Terry Lange Column

Studebaker's advertisement of their 1955 Police Ambulet

Photo Peter Adsten Column
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Column 09 June/July 2007

Police Ambulances

Have you ever heard of a police ambulance? They were not common, but there were a few.

Up until the 1960s the majority of ambulance services in Canada and the US were provided by funeral homes. Ambulance services were also provided by fire departments (both voluntary and paid), by hospitals, by private firms, and by volunteer organizations. But in a limited few locations the ambulance service was provided by the police department.

In 1959, emergency access in the City of Winnipeg was made by dialing "999" (this was later changed to the more common "911"). If medical assistance was required for a motor vehicle accident, an industrial accident, or an incident in a public place, the call would be transferred to either the Winnipeg Fire Department (who operated three rescue units), or to the Winnipeg Police Department who operated an ambulance in the downtown and north end of Winnipeg. Winnipeg Police continued operating ambulances until 1975 when the City took over all of Winnipeg's private ambulance services.

During the 1960s Montreal's police department also operated ambulances.

The photo of the Studebaker Police Ambulance was part of an advertising campaign by the Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, Indiana. Studebaker produced a line of ambulances built on their Conestoga Station Wagon and named them The Studebaker Ambulet. The name implies a small ambulance, which it was, as the head end of the cot can be seen next to the driver's back. It is not known whether the police in the town of South Bend actually provided ambulance services however, Studebaker's marketing department obviously determined the police ambulance market was large enough to develop an advertising program targeted specifically to police. Studebaker boasted of "rapid conversion from patrol car to ambulance" and "Substantial economies can be gained, and efficiency greatly increased by use of the Ambulet as a traffic cruiser".

Today, with modern EMS being so much more than basic first aid and transportation, it is doubtful any police department ambulance services remain.

Copyright 2007 Peter Adsten