This spring marks the 50th anniversary of a very important event in our community’s history. It was in early 1962 that the City of Red Deer commenced the operation of a municipal ambulance service using the Fire Department as the operators.
After the First World War, Red Deer acquired its first ambulance service. It was provided by the local Jacques-Orme Funeral Home. The ambulance was also used as a hearse.
In the early 1920s, another funeral home began providing a competing ambulance service, again using a motor coach that was also a hearse.
The rivalry between the two operators became quite fierce. One company put ads in the newspaper which stated, “Our superior service costs no more than inferior service”.
For almost 40 years, the ambulance service continued to be operated by the Jacques-Orme Funeral Home, eventually renamed Brown and Johnson Funeral Home and Ambulance Service. The equipment used, however, came to be solely ambulances and not hearses.
By the late 1950s, the funeral home found it increasingly costly to run the ambulance service. In February 1959, a request was made to the City to provide a $1,500 subsidy.
City council declined the request, but did agree to pay for ambulance services when called by the City detail of the RCMP when required for City employees injured on the job and for all welfare cases chargeable to the City.
In 1961, Brown and Johnson was sold and became Eventide Funeral and Ambulance Service. The new owners decided that they could not afford to continue to cover the deficits of the four ambulances it was operating regionally from the profits on the funeral business. Consequently, in November 1961, they asked 18 Central Alberta towns, villages and rural municipalities as well as the City of Red Deer for a per capita subsidy of the ambulance service.
The Alberta Government offered the opinion that such a subsidy was not permissible under province’s municipal government legislation. Eventide’s request was unanimously turned down.
Consequently, the Company announced that it was ending ambulance service as of Jan. 31st, 1962 except in cases where people had signed up to a subscriber plan. Membership fees for the plan were set at $10 for individuals and $5 each when they were part of a commercial group set up by their employers.
The City did not like the proposal that might exclude some people needing an ambulance. It consequently moved quickly to institute its own ambulance service. It also passed a bylaw to license private ambulance service and to make it a requirement that any operator had to answer all calls that it received.
An ambulance was initially leased by the City from Sorenson Bus Lines at a cost of $150 per month.
The decision was made to use the fire department as it was felt this would eliminate the need to hire any new ambulance staff.
The decision proved to be very popular, even though the cost per call was set at $10 up from the $6 for day calls and $8 for night calls which had been charged by the funeral home.
A local auto dealership even offered to provide the gas, oil and grease for the public ambulance at no charge to the City.
In November 1963, the City decided to purchase an ambulance from Sorenson’s at a cost of $7,200. Over the years, more ambulances were purchased along with more technologically advanced equipment.
After a lengthy debate, in 1985, the City implemented a paramedic service. That same year, the Alberta Shock Trauma Rescue Society or STARS initiated a provincial air ambulance service. These proved to be very beneficial additions to Central Alberta’s emergency services, particularly with the Red Deer Regional Hospital becoming a highly advanced regional health centre.
Local ambulance service is now the responsibility of Alberta Health Services as part of a provincial ambulance system.