The National EMS Museum has what sounds like a simple mission: preserving the past, present and future of EMS. For a field like EMS, still relatively young but growing exponentially, that task actually becomes more daunting with each passing year—yet it’s a challenge well worth the effort.
This history of EMS is much more than just the story of the industry’s past; charting the meteoric rise of one of the youngest branches of medicine tells us a great deal about who we are as EMS providers today, and provides a glimpse of what the industry may become tomorrow.
As Lou Jordan, president of Emergency Training Associates and Emergency Publishers Inc., as well as vice president and traveling museum director for the National EMS Museum says, “I’ve been at this since 1960. I’ve put in lots and lots of years, and it’s become my life. I truly believe there are some wonderful people doing incredible work in EMS and their contributions can’t be forgotten.”
The non-profit national museum is the culmination of the efforts of a number of experienced EMS providers over a period of 30-plus years to preserve and protect the artifacts, tools, documents and stories of the initial development and continued growth of EMS. The museum, which got its start with a donation from NAEMT but operates independently, relies on the generosity and support of private companies, EMS organizations and individuals to maintain its growing collection and long-term goal of building a brick and mortar facility.
Jordan says the museum is actually being developed in three stages, the first two of which are essentially complete. Stage one is the virtual museum, accessible through the museum’s main website, www.emsmuseum.org. Stage two is a traveling museum. And stage three is a brick and mortar museum.
The virtual museum, explains Jordan, is ideal because it allows the national museum to accept donated items, photograph them and display them online with background information to a broad audience. “One of the advantages of the virtual museum,” says Jordan, “is if somebody has something but doesn’t want to part with it, such as an old ambulance, they can send us photos and information about the item—what it was, when, where and how it was used—and we can plug that right into the virtual museum. Without them even giving up their artifact they’re able to share it with the rest of the world.”
In addition to photos of old EMS medical equipment, the virtual museum features first-person biographical articles from EMS providers, information about the evolution of EMS communications equipment, material on the beginnings of EMS management and organizations, and even old training videos.
The traveling museum takes things a step further and creates opportunities for EMS providers to see artifacts in person. It does travel from its current home base in Taneytown, MD, to some regional and national EMS shows, but because the cost to transport equipment and other items is prohibitive, Jordan says the national museum is exploring regional EMS museum units with EMS locations and organizations throughout the U.S.
“We’re looking for organizations to share our cache of items with,” Jordan says. “For example, if there’s an agency in Georgia willing to do it, and we’ve got three of one item, seven of another and so many of a third, we’ll send them every duplicate we’ve got. Now they can go to the shows in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and maybe even Louisiana, because the travel distances are so much shorter. We recently had two large ambulances donated, one of which will be stationed in Connecticut and will travel to the New England state shows. Far more people will be exposed to it that way and hopefully it drums up continued interest in the museum.”
The third step, a permanent physical museum location, doesn’t have a time frame, Jordan says. It will largely depend on how supportive the EMS community is, and no location has been set.