Article 15 June/July 2008

Side Loading Ambulances

Unlike the emergency rooms on wheels provided by EMS today, ambulance "service" in many towns and cities throughout Canada was provided by funeral homes. The funeral home would often modify one of its larger sedans or a limousine so it could double as an ambulance. Modifications would include replacing the front bench seat with two separate seats, one for the driver and a removable seat for the passenger. Other modifications included changing the passenger side rear door to a "suicide" door (hinged at the back so it would open the "wrong" way), and modifying the pillar between the passenger side doors to make it removable. These modifications allowed a cot to be loaded into the side of the car and thus the name "side loading".

Some funeral homes had side loading cars that were dedicated full time to ambulance use. The 1947 side loading Dodge ambulance shown in the photo was operated by Nicholls Funeral Home of Wallaceburg, Ontario and was probably dedicated full time to ambulance use, given that it has emergency lights permanently mounted front and back as well as the firm's name and a cross painted on the front door.

Many funeral home sedan ambulances were unmarked and were used mainly for patient transfers. If the car had a siren, it was installed behind the grille where it couldn't be seen, and if it had a red light it was removable. The 1953 side loading DeSoto ambulance shown in the photo was originally modified by McClintock Conversions of Lansing, Michigan. The car is now owned by Len Langlois, the former ambulance operator in Chatham, Ontario.

There were many variations of these dual purpose sedan ambulances, but the basic procedure was the same: when the car was no longer needed for funeral service, the front passenger seat was removed, the attendant's jump seat and the cot were placed into the car, the red light was attached to it's bracket and the car was ready to respond to an ambulance call.

What about all the other ambulance equipment? There was none.

Copyright 2008 Peter Adsten

1947 side loading Dodge ambulance, Wallaceburg, Ontario

Photo Len Langlois Column

1952 side loading DeSoto ambulance, Chatham, Ontario

Photo Walter McCall Column

1952 side loading DeSoto ambulance, Chatham, Ontario

Photo Len Langlois Column