Article 48 August/September 2014

Ambulance Headlines

Prior to the 1970s the public's expectations of ambulance service matched what they received - little more than a fast ride to the hospital. But during the 1970s and 1980s the public became aware of the existence of an advanced type of ambulance service, in part because they were watching the weekly Los Angeles based Emergency! show on television. Citizens began asking their municipal and provincial politicians why they too couldn't have an improved level of ambulance service.

Sometimes it was a tragic event in the community that brought the shortcomings of the ambulance service to light. The local newspaper would report on the flawed ambulance response (real or perceived), followed by radio stations getting into the mix with phone-in programs, further muddying the facts and proposing solutions. The shortcomings of ambulance services were exposed for everyone in the community to see.

In many locales it was the ambulance operators themselves who were asking politicians for change. They wanted proper training for their staff, improved equipment standards, stable funding and they wanted ambulance competition resolved where it existed. Some individual operators - as well as some provincial ambulance associations - even resorted to demonstrations and threats of withdrawal of service when they felt they were not being listened to.

The period of transition from 'load and go' ambulance service to modern EMS was anything but smooth. Newspapers of the day frequently ran articles concerning the ambulance dilemma. Headlines such as the following were common:

Ambulance response criticized
Death of woman prompts new ambulance rules
Province blamed for ambulance situation
Health Minister dismisses ambulance concerns
Ambulance operator seeks subsidy
Ambulance drivers resign
Ambulance horror story
Ambulance service upgrading recommended
Government intervention necessary
Ambulance crisis places lives at risk

Ron Forsman, the ambulance operator in Neepawa, Manitoba from 1975 to 2005, collected and saved more than 250 newspaper articles relating to ambulance service in that province. The headlines of those newspaper articles are copied to my website Column 00E. I believe these headlines make an interesting and reflective read into our shared EMS history. A visit to your local or provincial archives will likely reveal a similar pattern of "ambulance-in-crisis" newspaper articles.

Thankfully, politicians in individual communities and provinces responded, and one by one made the necessary improvements to EMS legislation and funding.

Photo courtesy Ron Forsman Column

Manitoba ambulance operators demonstrate at the Provincial Legislative Building in Winnipeg, March 1988