As time approaches the mid-point of 2015 it is well for the people of the Amery Community to consider that this marks the sixty-fifth year of Ambulance service to this area of Polk County. Ambulance service was non-existent prior to 1950 although occasionally the hearse from one of the funeral homes might be persuaded to transport a patient if they had time and help available. This was generally done on a non-emergent basis.
In 1950 Bob Williamson (fresh from college) came to Amery to begin working with his father-in-law, Alvin Stenberg who also owned Stenberg Mortuary and had a furniture store. Bob started transporting patients to the Amery Hospital that was located where the Amery Congregational Church parking lot is presently. Bob said it generated a small amount of money however the service was never self-supporting.
The first vehicle used as an ambulance was a Plymouth station wagon that was commonly known as a Woodie with wooden sides and was very classy. Other vehicles used were a Ford station wagon and a Packard wagon. Some of the early attendants were Ken Olson, Bob Lee, Tom Aus, and Don Winchell. Several of these folks also worked in the furniture store so whoever was available to take a call was summoned when needed.
The rates were paid by the Hospital or Clinic for service as follows; City of Amery pick-up 5.00 dollars. Out in the country, 10.00 dollars. Transfer to twin cities 25.00 dollars. And lastly, a trip to Madison would cost 50.00 dollars and this was at a time when a one-way trip to Madison was about 8 hours. Bob stated that some time in the fifties they took 70 transfers to Madison in one year. !!!
The reason for all the Madison trips was that the County was responsible for the poor people of the area and the State of Wisconsin and Polk County said the poor had to be hospitalized at Madison, a state hospital. Just think about going with red lights and sirens for an 8-hour trip.
A number of the hospitals in the Twin Cities that were popular were Miller, Iettel, Midway and Northwestern none of which are in business today.
In approximately 1962 a number of regulations were began by the state and counties that essentially forced the private providers out of business this resulted in what was then Williamson-Stenberg giving the ambulance and the business to the City of Amery. At that same time several townships also linked with the City to become the Municipal Ambulance service and Don Winchell was hired to become the first fulltime employee and manager. The service purchased its first dedicated ambulance, a used Cadillac. In about 1968 Don became the first state registered EMT in the Amery service. His EMT registered number, I believe was 802. Imagine that only 800 people had taken the class before him.
At that time it was not necessary to be an EMT to work as an attendant and a driver was often picked from on of the firemen that worked close in town.
I started working as an ambulance attendant in February of 1975 with no formal training prior to that. The folks working on the ambulance were, Don Winchell, myself, Stub Porter who was retired, Ben Jacobson manager at Lamperts, Goldie Jacobson Bens wife, and several others that drove for us when needed.
The ambulance was dispatched by phone, which meant that someone had to be available to answer the phone 24-7-365. To that end each of us had a telephone in our homes that all rang at once and whoever was on call answered and everyone else listened in, Long before the days of HIPPA much of the community knew what was happening almost immediately when we were called. There were also phones at Lampert Lumber and at the Amery Hospital. This was to make sure the phone was answered when we went to coffee or were out on an errand or run. In October of 1975 Goldie Jacobson and I became the second and third EMT’s in Amery. Don, Goldie and I also became Nationally Registered EMT’s that October. Also in 1975, MAS purchased the first Mod 2 ambulance in the area. This was on a Chevrolet chassis and was a box style patient compartment similar to today’s units. Prior to that all were station wagon or hearse style.
Since this was before the arrival of pagers or cell phones being on call meant that someone had to know where you were every minute of the day. If you went to the grocery store you had to tell someone which store you were going to and how long you were going to be gone so you could be reached if a call came. Several times I recall being picked up from a store with a bag of groceries in my hand and going on a call. Towards the end of 1976 we worked out a plan to be off call every other Saturday from noon until 6 pm Sunday night. During that 2-year time I had 1 week of vacation and Don Hade a week off. I believe it was his first vacation in 13 years.
Ricky Mork became manager in the 1980’s and Bev Gunderson until 1998.
by Rick VanBlaricom