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Emergency Medical Services Then & Now

Today’s Emergency Medical Services personnel undergo hundreds of hours of rigorous training before stepping foot into an ambulance.

In the early days, the ability to drive fast and avoid potholes was about all that was required.

Fifty years ago, if you went into labor weeks before your due date or fell off the roof, you were in real trouble. There was no 9-1-1. The closest thing to an ambulance was parked at the funeral home. And the term Paramedic didn’t even exist.

But things were about to get better, largely due to the startling fact that more people died on the nation’s highways in 1965 than during the entire course of the Vietnam War. That wake-up call led Lyndon Johnson to create the National Transportation Safety Board which, among other things, called for communities to provide ambulance services at the local level.

Elkhart quickly answered the call. The City already owned one ambulance – a flashy red Cadillac. And now volunteer fire departments throughout the county were getting similar equipment. But the primary goal at the time was limited to transportation – “scoop and run” as the drivers called it. Get the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible.

In-the-field medical treatment wasn’t part of the job.

Clearly the next step in the creation of reliable emergency service would involve training. But that was going to be a big step. Only a few of the firemen who were assigned to ambulance duty had Red Cross First Aid experience. And Elkhart General Hospital didn’t even have an Emergency Department until 1967.


Today, if you tumble off that roof, advanced emergency medical treatment is literally only a phone call – and minutes – away. And when it arrives, you can count on getting state-of-the-art emergency treatment thanks to the training that Elkhart area Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics receive through the Elkhart General Emergency Medical Service (EMS) Training Program.

“Today’s trauma patient has a much better chance of surviving than in the past, largely because we now recognize how critical in-the-field treatment is - treatment we administer even before heading to the Hospital. That’s the whole point of our program,” says Tony Hartman, M.Ed., NREMT-P, Coordinator of the Elkhart General EMS Training Program. “This is probably most evident in how we’re able to help a heart attack victim.”

“Our work starts the second the emergency medical dispatcher answers the 9-1-1 call,” he continues. “Our dispatchers are highly trained to ask the right questions and provide appropriate medical advice to the caller – measures that can be taken even before the ambulance arrives.”

Next, the emergency team arrives on the scene with an ambulance that, with its advanced equipment, can almost be considered an ER on wheels. The Paramedics assess the situation, put the patient on a 12-lead monitor, read and interpret the EKG, and even transmit the reading to the Hospital via phone or radio. “The physician sees the same real time readings we do, and is able to further direct the Paramedics in administering appropriate medications or other treatments,” according to Hartman. “By the time we head for the Hospital, we have administered the right medications and the cardiologist and the cath lab are ready for the patient. We’re ahead of the game by at least 15 to 20 minutes – often the difference between life and death for a heart attack victim.”

Since its beginning in 1979, the Elkhart General EMS Training Program has graduated more than 1,200 EMTs and Paramedics, and most of the area’s EMS services are staffed by these graduates. It’s comforting to know that, if you do venture back up on the roof, these highly trained professionals are ready if you need them.

For More Information

Call the Elkhart General EMS Training Program at 574-875-6430.