The California Ambulance Association this week published online a commemorative edition of its Siren magazine celebrating the history of EMS in California. The primary aim was to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wedworth-Townsend Act by then Governor Ronald Reagan creating the first licensed paramedic program in California and setting in motion a new era for emergency medical services across the country.
The welcome note in the edition was written by EMS TV icon, Emergency! actor, Randolph Mantooth. Emergency! provided a generation and beyond the inspiration to undertake a career in EMS. Mantooth notes, “The question often posed to me is, did I realize the importance of the Wedworth-Townsend Act when I first shot the pilot of Emergency! The short answer is no, but, as the show progressed, Kevin Tighe and I began to see the impact paramedics were having on the country. The television-show, Emergency!, of course, did not create paramedics. The men who wrote, legislated, and passed the Wedworth-Townsend Act deserve that credit.”
The history of California’s EMS goes back further than the historic signing in 1970, and the Siren charts the history all the way back to 1868, when the Los Angeles Police Department operated ambulances and free-standing emergency departments, known then as “receiving hospitals.”
California Ambulance Association President, Todd Valeri, CEO of American Ambulance in Fresno, Calif., said “California has a rich, deep history of EMS and prehospital patient care that developed well before 1970 and we are delighted to deliver it all to you. We go back and move through time to celebrate all our history. This Siren commemorative edition truly celebrates events in our California prehospital legacy and the personalities that have played a part to shape both state and national EMS delivery.”
The impetus for the Siren edition was born out of the virtual exhibition, “California Responds: The legacy of California Emergency Medical Services.” Curated and created by the National EMS Museum, celebrated are California pre-hospital pioneers such as Drs. Walter Graf and J. Michael Criley, who successfully trained paramedics to deliver prehospital care to heart attack patients without direct physician intervention in the ambulance (mobile coronary care unit) and transport those patients to the hospital for further treatment and recovery, resulting in increased survival rates for the patient. Feature articles also cover innovators with California origins including Rick Kendrick and his extraction device and Glenn Hare, inventor of the traction splint. Going further back into the annals of prehospital history, Siren also discusses the story of Dr. Enloe’s 1901 Log Flume Ambulance, the only way to extract casualties from remote logging camps in Chico, Northern California.
In reflecting on the history, CAA President Todd Valeri notes that, “Our history continues to be written, particularly as we face the challenge of a lifetime in COVID-19, which has placed all ambulance services and agencies firmly on the front line. Eventually, we will look back and reflect on these times and the fact that we played a major part in the victory in the pandemic that will eventually come.” This indicates that further chapters are yet to be written.