United States Ambulance Services: A Brief History

Transport of the sick and injured has taken place in many differing ways throughout history. The first cases of medical transportation are said to date back to 1200 BC, when wounded Egyptian soldiers were removed from the battlefield and placed into private residences to heal. The use of medical transportation was then refined during subsequent military skirmishes. By the early 19th century several countries such as America found themselves in desperate need of some kind of organized ambulance services, so battlefield models of such services were used as a base.

The Development of the First Ambulance Services

The first American ambulance service was consequently comprised of, modified army carriages, which were put into service in New York City in the late 1860’s. This system is said to have been established by Edward Dalton, an ex-army doctor. Although these carriages were essentially nothing more than mattresses in the backs of wagons, modifications to the carriages permitted greater maneuverability and speed for use within the city. The wagons were later further modified to incorporate more equipment and to make them more comfortable for patients.

By 1870 it was possible to call an ambulance in New York City, and by 1893 the service was receiving over 20,000 calls a year. The idea of ambulance services consequently spread to other cities such as Minneapolis which by the early 1900’s boasted a public medical transportation system including hospital, police, and health department ambulances. 1916 saw the consolidation of these services, and following this, the development of the ‘Emergency department’ at a local hospital. The next 20 years saw the further definition of these services and the origin of something resembling the existing system.

The Birth of Contemporary Medical Transportation Services

Modern ambulance services, especially those that currently exist in places like New York City hardly bear a resemblance to the first services offered. Ambulance operations are now run out of hi-tech dispatch centers which not only take calls; but prioritize patients; decide on appropriate resources to send to an emergency situation; and in some cases give over the phone medical advice.

Modern ambulances are also nothing like the original design. The staff that is employed is usually highly trained, and most of the vehicles used operate more like mobile intensive care units than a form of transportation to a hospital. The conception of air ambulances in the 1920’s also saw a massive change in the operation of many medical transportation services.

Air ambulances were originally developed in order to treat or collect patients from remote areas, something that was impossible using traditional ground vehicles. Currently however aircraft, in particular helicopters are becoming favored over conventional ambulances in many trauma cases, due to the argument that they are faster, and that every second counts in a medical emergency.

Thus, it can be seen that these services in America have evolved greatly since their conception in the mid 1800’s. With the increased reliance of many people on the assistance that these services offer, it is assumed that ambulance services will continue to grow and to change to meet needs.