Remembering the birth of ambulance service in Riverview

GERALD PERRY

One of my neighbors recently asked me, “Did you know that there has been a private ambulance service sitting outside of our fire department several times this past month? 

“What’s up with that?” 

That private service is one of the reasons we recently voted on a full time fire department with paramedics.

I think now would be a good time to review the history of what brought on ambulance service in Riverview. 

In the many years prior to an ambulance service, when someone fell over in a dead faint, someone in the family or a neighbor knew what to do. 

Prior to the 1960s, at least Downriver, local funeral homes ran a primitive type ambulance service. Someone who was brave enough to drive an ambulance to the accident and the police officers would sometimes help load the victim in the ambulance and the driver would get them to the Hospital as fast as possible. Sometimes they got you to the hospital in time for the doctors to save you, and sadly, sometimes not. 

The medical emergency history of Riverview pretty much was the same as the rest of the world, until about the 1950s when the volunteer fire department acquired an invention called a “Resuscitator.” 

This device was thought to be a miracle worker. 

It was a device using positive pressure to the lungs on an unconscious person, who was not breathing, in order to keep them oxygenated and alive, until help was available.

In the 1950s, a private Downriver ambulance service was born and operated out of a building in southern Wyandotte. 

This was a slight improvement over the funeral ambulance, since it was dedicated to hauling the injured only. It was a nice big red Cadillac ambulance. Not much room, but enough for a stretcher. 

This service was adequate until a number of calls came in and you had a first-come, first-served situation. Depending on how many calls were backed up, you might have to wait a long time for an ambulance to arrive. 

In the early 1960s, one such incident happened in Riverview. An elderly lady had died at home and the Riverview part-time, part-paid, Fire Department was summoned. They responded and immediately began to use the resuscitator. 

They used the device on the elderly lady for an hour and 15 minutes. Since it was against the Law for anyone but a licensed Doctor to pronounce a person legally dead, the fireman had no choice but to continue to try to resuscitate the lady.

Finally, the elderly lady’s nephew-in-law, who sometimes worked for the private ambulance company came to the house in an ambulance and the Fireman helped the driver put her in the ambulance. 

This was the first of two incidents that happened in a short time. 

The Village Council requested a minimum response time from the private ambulance company and the answer was it would cost the Village a lot of money, more than it could afford. 

Donald Highfield who happened to be the Fire Chief at time, stated that this situation was going to stop. He promptly had his men convert his city-furnished Fire Chief station wagon into an Ambulance, equipped with a used stretcher and a resuscitator. He brought in a instructor in advanced first aid and held classes so all of the men were trained to respond in our own ambulance. 

Which brings us to the present where the city is faced with a similar situation. 

The Riverview (part-time, part-paid) Fire Department over the years improved the ambulance service from two men on duty 24-7 trained only in First Aid to Advanced Life Suppor (ALS)t ambulance service manned by paramedics. 

It has become hard to staff these advanced medical positions with just part-timers bringing us to the vote we just had on a full time fire department last week. 

You may wonder how I know so much about the elderly lady situation all those many years ago: Well, I was there as one of the firefighters on the call.

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