Cumberland Times-News

June 19, 2008

Ambulance service has key community role

Betty VanNewKirk, Columnist

The Frostburg Area Ambulance Service is currently asking for our help in raising money for the protective clothing that new government regulations require.

From disposable plastic gloves to sturdy boots, from padded jackets to fire-resistant headgear, the equipment will give added protection to the ambulance corps and to the citizens they serve.

The ambulance is a modern development. The word did not exist until the middle of the 19th century, and it was coined to identify a semi-mobile hospital unit set up among the baggage at the edge of a battlefield. By the time of the Civil War it was also applied to the carts on which wounded men were taken off the field.

The first civilian ambulances were hearses borrowed from undertakers, since they could accommodate a bed as ordinary horse-drawn vehicles could not.

Here in Frostburg, Conrad Nickel, the first of our furniture-maker-morticians, provided ambulance service, to be followed by his successors, Hafer and Durst.

In due time, the horses were retired and the vehicles were motorized, but the ambulance was only a specialized kind of taxi service. Treatment in transit came much later.

In 1975 a group of local people, all volunteers, got together to form our Frostburg Ambulance Service. They took over some space next to the fire department on Water Street, they gathered up donated equipment and they signed up for courses in first aid and emergency medical technology. Some of the original 27 are still active members of the organization.

A few years ago they moved to more appropriate quarters on West Main Street, where, with the help of a small staff of part-time paid individuals, their 911 phone is manned around the clock.

The corps itself, however, is still all volunteer. Many of them - including a number of much-appreciated students from FSU - have qualified through government-sponsored courses.

Necessary funding comes from the city, from fund-raising projects, and from people like you and me, who make an annual contribution (tax deductible, since the ambulance service is non-profit) and are guaranteed free transport when we need it.

But the ambulance service is not just a convenient form of transportation. Every time the town sirens go off, indicating a fire or an accident, the ambulance corps responds.

They are on hand for football games and other activities at Mountain Ridge High or the university. They monitor parades and special events. And if you have a concern about your temperature or blood pressure, they will check you out and recommend further steps you should take.

All of the services we receive in Frostburg are available in bigger cities, but there they become depersonalized. Here we know each other; we share responsibilities; and there is a family-feeling. Our ambulance corps is a major contributor to that atmosphere.

Betty VanNewkirk is the historian for the Frostburg Museum.