Article 34 December 2011/January 2012

Coaldale's Sedan Ambulance

In 1959 the Town of Coaldale, Alberta purchased their first ambulance. It was a used 1952 Dodge Limo. Initially it was parked in front of the town office for several days, without license plates, while town officials were deciding who should operate it. In the end they gave the car to the volunteer fire department to run.

Coaldale's Dodge was a long-wheelbase, eight-passenger sedan of the type the Chrysler Corporation was producing for the limo and taxi industry during the 1940s and early 1950s. Equipped with a 137.5 inch wheelbase, these cars were long enough to accomodate an ambulance cot after some modifications had been made.

The modifications were relatively simple: replace the car's front bench seat with a single seat for the driver and, second: modify the centre door post on the passenger side so it would swing away with the rear 'suicide' door when it was opened. The ambulance cot could then be loaded into the side of the ambulance, hence the moniker 'side-loader'. These home-built sedan ambulances were much less expensive than professionally manufactured ambulances and as a result became popular with volunteer and privately operated ambulance services in Canada.

The cot in a sedan ambulance was usually positioned with the head-end of the cot resting against the rear bench seat and the feet-end pointing towards the dashboard. Patients lying on the cot would be facing forward which gave them a great view of the passing scenery. The patient's forward facing position also helped decrease the incidents of motion sickness. However, the location of the cot in these sedan ambulances could also be problematic, depending on the demeanor of the patient. You see, the patient's feet were right beside the driver. You can imagine how dangerous that was whenever a patient became violent!

Coaldale's Dodge ambulance was equipped with the manufacturer's standard flat head 6 cylinder engine and considering the car's overall weight wuld not have been capable of setting any speed records. The car's emergency warning equipment consisted of a red light mounted onto the front bumper and a rotating red light mounted on the roof. A red cross was painted onto the side windows and on the front doors was painted TOWN OF COALDALE AMBULANCE.

It s not known how much the Town of Coaldale paid for their used Dodge but we do know the prices they paid for their ambulance equipment. Purchased from the Winnipeg Casket Company, the cot holder was $25, a Dunopillo foamed latex mattress was $45 and the ambulance cot was $210. More than likely, the volunteers would also have equipped the car with a wooden box filled with an assortment of splints and bandages.

Coaldale's used Dodge sedan ambulance was rather primitive when compared to today's EMS vehicles, but when compared to having no ambulance in town, it must have been a big stride forward.

Copyright 2012 Peter Adsten

Photo from Andy Van Rijn Column

This mural painted on an exterior wall of Coaldale's present day fire hall nicely captures the era in which their Dodge sedan ambulance served.