Article 13 February/March 2008

Oxygen & Radio Equipped

Can you imagine providing ambulance service without basic equipment such as oxygen equipment and radio communication? Oxygen and radios began to appear in ambulances after World War II but didn't become popular until the 1950s.

When oxygen equipment first became available for ambulances, it not only helped the patient, it also greatly enhanced the perception of professionalism for ambulance personnel. The simple administration procedures made it ideal for the ambulance personnel of the time who only had basic first aid training or not training at all.

If your ambulance service was the first in the community to have invested n oxygen equipment, it was important that the public know about it. And what better method of advertising than to paint OXYGEN EQUIPPED on the ambulance? If the public was made aware that your ambulance service was providing advanced medical equipment such as oxygen, you might receive an increased share of ambulance calls. As well, oxygen equipment could bring in extra revenue as many ambulance services charged an extra fee whenever oxygen had been provided.

The start of 2-way radio communication between an ambulance and the dispatch office was a very significant development in the improvement of ambulance service. Prior to this development, ambulances were "on their own" from the time they left the ambulance base until they arrived at a hospital or some other destination from where they could telephone back to the office for further instructions. The earliest form of radio communication was from a base station to an ambulance and back, thereby making it "2-way" radio communication. A further advancement was 3-way radio communication which also made it possible to communicate from one ambulance to another; however the term "3-way radio" communication never became popular.

Well equipped ambulances of the 1950s carried oxygen equipment as well as radio communication equipment and proudly advertised both. The 1952 Superior Cadillac ambulance operated by Kerr Brothers Funeral Home of Lexington, Kentucky advertised RADIO DISPATCHED as well as OXYGEN EQUIPPED. The 1958 Plymouth ambulance operated by MacKenzie's Funeral Home in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan advertised MACKENZIE'S RADIO AMBULANCE and also had the word OXYGEN painted between the side windows.

What was highly important at the time today, while still important, is considered common place.

Copyright 2008 Peter Adsten

1952 Superior Cadillac, Kerr Brothers, Lexington, Kentucky

Photo Walter McCall Column

1959 Plymouth, MacKenzie's, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan

Photo Prince Albert Historical Society Column