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A History of Emergency Medical Services

Oct. 24--How would you like it if you were in a car accident and an EMT showed up with a quart of liquor to dull the pain?

That was a very real thing in 1869, according to the West Virginia Department of Education's website.

"In 1869, New York City advertised a 30-second response time and provided an Ambulance Surgeon and a quart of brandy for their patients," the site says. This was one of the earliest recorded instances of ambulances. That is, except for the horse-drawn carriages of the Civil War.

Standards improved again during World War I. Medical teams used electric, steam and gasoline powered carriages to transport the injured. It was also the first war in which extraction splints and other medical equipment were used. After the war, civilian ambulances were equipped with radio dispatchers to better serve communities.

Post-World War II America was the beginning of EMS as we know it today. It was a combination of towing operators, medical equipment companies, funeral homes, hospitals and police/fire departments.

After years of unregulated care, owners of funeral homes took it upon themselves to provide patient care. They provided almost half of the nation's ambulances.

"Traffic accidents constitute one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, of the nation's public health problems," President John F. Kennedy said in 1960.

It took six years for someone to listen to JFK's words. In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson and several highway commissions signed the National Highway Traffic Safety Act.

The NHTSA standardized EMS training, promoted state involvement, encouraged community oversight, created radio communication and stressed a single emergency number.

In 1972, the Health Services and Mental Health Administration became the lead agency for EMS. The Physician Responder Program was also put into place, which eventually became the basis for paramedic programs.

The EMS Systems Act came in 1973. It established 300 EMS systems throughout the U.S. The Department of Transportation adapted training for EMTs, paramedics and first responders.

Ambulance specifications were also released and had to followed.

In 1996, the EMS Agenda for the Future was drafted, which connected EMS with other medical professions. The same year, the EMS Education Agenda for the Future was drafted, which provided the standards for certifications of EMS professionals.

It's been almost two decades since the last EMS act was passed.

"Since that time, pre-hospital emergency medical care has continually evolved and improved," according to the West Virginia Department of Education's website. "The EMT has been acknowledged as a bonafide member of the health care team.

"National standards have been established. Ambulance equipment essentials have been set. National accreditation of paramedic programs has been achieved, and professional associations for the EMT have been organized."

-- Email:; Follow on Twitter @RHCodyNeff

Copyright 2015 - The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va.

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