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History of Durham Ambulance, Rescue, and EMS Services
Last updated: January 1, 2020
These are incomplete and informal research notes, about the history of ambulance, rescue, and EMS services in Durham city and Durham County. The content is based on blog posts from 2014 and 2018.
See supporting documents from 2019 in these Google Drive folders about Durham EMS and Durham FD rescue.
Durham Life Savings Corps was established around 1918, as a Red Cross organization with a mission to promote and provide water safety. This was a national initiative. Source: DHM, 3/12/53.
Early ambulance services in Durham and Durham County was provided by funeral homes, such as Amey's Funeral Home and Florist, Burthey Funeral Service, Clements Funeral Service, Howerton-Bryan Company, Hudson Funeral Home, etc., and even hospitals. Watts Hospital had at least one ambulance as shown in this image circa 1940.
Durham Morning Herald advertisements, left March 1936, right June 1948
Courtesy North Carolina Collection at Durham County Library. See more information.
1940 to 1949
1942 - By this time, the Durham Life Savings Corps is performing water searches, such as using their swimmers and divers to search for a missing girl on the Eno River in July 1942. Source: DMH, 7/4/42.
1949 - Durham Life Saving Corps begins availability for 24-hour duty for "emergency calls throughout the Durham area" in May 1949. The group has four squads, with five or six people each, plus squad leaders, a First Lieutenant, Second Lieutenant, and Captain. They are affiliated with the City of Durham recreation department. Source: DMH, 5/22/49.
1950 to 1959
1952, March - By this time, the Durham City/County Civil Defense agency has been created. Source: DS, 3/25/52.
1952, May - Durham Life Saving Corps receives a new boat. It replaces one "rotting with age" and that couldn't be replaced, due to the Red Cross lacking the funds. The city provides funds for the boat, by hiring the Corps to operate the new Long Meadow Pool for $100. Source: DMH, 5/22/52.
1953, March - Durham Life Saving Crops is being "incorporated" and has been placed on a "year-around call basis" for all types of accident and rescue services. (Though a search of state incorporation records finds no current archived results.) In May, their members join a ground search for a missing woman nine miles south of town. Source: DMH, 3/12/53; DS, 5/20/53.
1955, July - Durham Life Saving Corps now has two "mobile first aid units" to answer "highway accident calls." These are personal vehicles of members, with emergency equipment such as "blankets, splints, oxygen tanks, flares and first aid equipment of all types." They also have a boat and trailer, which is housed at the Forest Hills Clubhouse. During "special times of the year," such as July 4, the equipment is moved to other locations, such as swimming pools, where "an emergency crew stands by for action on a minute's notice."
The Corps was "primarily a water safety organization" until a few years ago. Their objectives include acquiring a truck to pull the boat and trailer, complete with rescue equipment; an ambulance; radio equipment for the vehicles; and a building or garage to serve as headquarters. They meet twice monthly during the summer, and monthly during the rest of the year.
The head of the corps, or "commander", is Fred Hecht. Later that month, the city tentatively approves providing an "obsolete truck" to the Corps, for use in answering emergency calls. Source: DS, 7/16/55; DMH, 7/29/55.
1956, March - Durham Life Saving Corps organizational structure, from news story:
Source: DS, 3/8/56.
1956, May 1 - Durham Medical Ambulance Company begins operation. Their office is located at 203 [208?] Milton Street and they have four ambulances, with two "trained medical technicians" aboard each. They will respond anywhere in the county, at any hour. In addition to "answering accident calls" they provide medical transport, and have transported "sick people" to "points as distant as Ohio, Alabama, Florida, and Massachusetts." The company was created after the city's "white funeral homes" planned to suspend ambulance services and took over the operation of the funeral home ambulances. The company was granted a charter in April 1956. The owner, William S. Aiken of Rochester, NY, operated similar services in Rochester, Syracuse (NY), and Dade County, Florida. Sources: DS, 4/13/56, DS 9/1/56.
1956, Dec. 6 - Durham Civil Defense applies for a rescue truck through the state agency handling surplus federal property. The truck was apparently never procured. Source: DS, 12/6/56.
1959, January - The Durham County Civil Defense agency has a Fire Service unit, comprised of the city fire department and the county forest service. The unit is led by the city Fire Chief. To meeting their mission to "protect life and property and minimize fire damage; assist the engineer, health and rescue services in decontamination of personnel and equipment resulting from radioactive fallout as required; make available organic rescue personnel and equipment to Civil Defense Rescue Service as direct" they plan to recruit and train a "volunteer and auxiliary fire unit to work as a light rescue service."
As profiled in a January 10 news story, the county CD rescue service is already operational. The Chief is Tommy Powell, assisted by four "zone rescue officers." Their only source of manpower are the 40 members of the Durham Life Savings Corps, and whose leader is one of the county CD rescue officers. Source: DH, 1/3/59.
1959, April - Durham County receives a new Civil Defense rescue service truck, a four wheel-drive GMC "carry all" that's fully equipped with "all kinds of rescue equipment." The truck was sent to the city several years ago, "by an enterprising car manufacturer who thought it could be sold." Nobody took interest and it sat on a dealer's lot for a year. A "series of volunteer rescue squads who would spring up, flourish and then wither" practiced on the truck, until it was purchased by the local CD agency with county and federal funds. The cost was likely $5,000 after a "reduction by the car dealer who wanted it off his lot." Source: DS, 4/16/59; DMH 10/20/63.
1960 to 1969
1960 - Durham FD receives a 1957 GMC rescue truck provided by Durham County Civil Defense. It's housed at Station 2, and manned by firefighters who have been trained by the Red Cross in first aid. Source: DMH 11/9/09.
Note: The news story cites "about 1960" as the date for the squad's activation. The story includes a photo that's labeled as 1960.
Photo credit TBD
1962, Aug. 1 - Durham FD takes over operation of county rescue truck, though the service is called the Durham County Rescue Squad. It was previously operated/augmented with volunteers. Four men on each of the two shifts are assigned to the truck. They serve with their regular duties as firemen "without extra pay." Each has received or is receiving special training. That included a month's training at the "rescue school operated in Greenville." They also received scuba diving instruction from three men, who volunteered to assist in rescue operations involving drowning victims.
The unit has also received additional equipment, including "diving suits for rescue men along with aqua-lung equipment", hydraulic jacks, air masks, a resuscitator, and additional stretchers. Part of the equipment was furnished by Durham FD, and part was paid through appropriations by local governments. DMH, 10/20/63.
Note: The date of Durham FD taking over operation of the rescue truck has been previously cited as August 1963.
1963, August - During the first six months of 1963, the squad answered 14 calls, ranging from automobile accidents to body recoveries from drownings. From August 1962 to October 1963, they've answered 19 calls, including "drownings, electrocutions, wrecks, heart attacks, and suffocations." Source: DS, 8/14/63, 10/20/63.
1964, June - The Durham County rescue truck is called Rescue 11 by this time. Two men operate the truck when on a call, and others off-duty can be called to service if needed. The truck is not equipped for transporting patients, however. Source: DS, 6/2/64.
1964 - Durham FD opens new Station 1. The rescue truck is moved to Station 1.
Photo credit TBD
1965, June 30 - The four white funeral homes in Durham discontinue ambulance service. The firms are Clements, Howerton-Bryan, Hall-Wynne, and Hudson. The city's black funeral homes continue their ambulance service. Source: DS, 6/17/65, DMH 7/13/66.
1965, July 15 - Durham Ambulance Service, Inc. begins service to Durham city and county, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro. The private company is operated by Worth Hill and J. Bates Willett. Source: DS, 6/17/65.
1966, July 15 - Durham Ambulance Service cancels the announced plans of a changed schedule of service, from 24/7 ambulance service to from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. They continue their 24/7 service but decline to cite the reason for the change. The company has been seeking a $2,000 monthly appropriation from the county, to "keep the firm on a good financial basis." Source: DMH, 7/13/66, 7/15/66.
1966, Nov. 6 - Durham County rescue truck damaged in a vehicle collision at Holloway Street and Alston Avenue. The 11:55 p.m. accident injured both men in the rescue truck, and the two people in the car. All were treated at Watts Hospital and released. The severely damaged truck requires replacement, and another vehicle is pressed into service as a temporary replacement. Sources: DS 11/7/66, DS 11/9/66
1966, November or Later - Durham County rescue truck replaced with late 1960s GMC van.
Photo credit TBD
Durham Sun photo, November 1974. Source: 1_03_36_189 in the Durham Herald Company Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
1967, Mar 11 - Durham Sun reports that legislation has been introduced before the General Assembly, making failure to pay for ambulance services, if financially able, a misdemeanor. The bill is introduced by Rep. Donald Stanford of Orange County. The story notes that Durham Ambulance Service is struggling with unpaid bills, and has about $11,000 in unpaid bills from about 550 patients. The figures represent about 30 percent of the company's business. Source: DS, 3/11/67.
1967, May - Durham Ambulance Service begins operating a substation to serve southern and western areas of the city and county, from a house on Burch Avenue between Main and Chapel Hill streets. The company currently has one station on Roxbroro Road in Braggtown. Source: DMH, 5/5/67.
1968, January - Ambulances in Durham are operated by seven firms: Durham Ambulance Service, which is subsidized by the city and the county, and six funeral homes: W. A. Amey and Son; Burthey; Fisher; Holloway and Son; Ellis D. Jones and Son; and Scarborough and Hargett. Source: DMH, 1/12/68.
1969, August - Durham's rescue truck has answered 300 this year, reports a news story. It's staffed by 11 firemen whose "special duty is with the rescue team." Nearly all have had special supplemental training. Equipment includes an acetylene torch, hydraulic jack, resuscitator, scuba diving ear, block and tackle rigs, breathing masks, and first aid equipment. The truck answers calls throughout Durham County and, in emergency situations, can transport patients. Source: DMH, 8/10/69
1969, August - Durham Ambulance Service receives three new 1969 Ford Econoline half-ton vans, which were converted to ambulances by DAS. They will be used in both Durham and Orange counties. Source: DS, 8/16/69.
1969 - North Carolina EMS System starts. The first EMT class in Durham was taught to Durham FD Rescue personnel at Durham Technical College. The eighty-one hour EMT course created the Fire Driver/Rescue Specialist position on Rescue 1. All emergencies in Durham and Durham County were answered by Rescue 1. This numbered twenty to thirty calls per day.
Also that year, Parkwood FD members begin first-aid training, after a member's son died after being struck by a garbage truck.
1970 to 1979
1972, March - Parkwood FD places into service a donated 1964 Ford Econline van as an ambulance/rescue vehicle. Was donated by GTE, which also painted the former telephone vehicle white for the fire department. Firefighters built cabinets and equipped the van. Four [?] years later, it was retired and donated to the Atlantic Beach Fire Department. Click to enlarge:
Photo credit TBD
1972, June - New county budget includes $12,000 for a new "civil defense rescue body", as the current one is "about to fall into the street." Source: DMH, 6/6/72.
1972, August - Durham Ambulance Services receives five new 1972 Ford Econoline vans, produced by Wayne Sales Company of Kansas City, MO. They are three-quarter ton vans. Their new equipment includes suction units and heating and air-condition units. They cost $10,000 each. Source: DMH, 8/10/72.
1973, June - New Durham Rescue 11 placed in service. The Murphy body is mounted on a one-ton Chevy chassis and includes patient compartment, for "transported of accident victims if necessary." Though it normally doesn't transport patients, and instead, leaves that task to Durham Ambulance Service. The truck is also equipped with an electric winch, a generator, "more lights," and "more storage space for first aid equipment." The truck cost $12,000, including the equipment on it. It was purchased with local and Civil Defense funds. The old rescue truck is retained, probably a standby unit. Source: Hose & Nozzle, July-August 1973; DMH, 6/8/73.
Durham Morning Herald photo, June 8?, 1974. Source: 1_06_24 in the Durham Herald Company Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
1974, January - Parkwood FD purchases a 1967 Cadillac Ambulance from Newton Square, PA, to replace the van. The Cadillac served until 1978, when it was replaced by a 1978 Ford van ambulance (Rescue 10/Medic 2).
Photo credit TBD
1974, February - Durham County commissioners vote to provide $15,000 per month to Durham Ambulance Service through June 30, 1974, and with the provision that the county receive the "right of collections" on all recoverable Medicaid services from July 1, 1973 to June 30, 1974. The company had told the county last week that they might stop ambulance service on March 1, if the county didn't provide enough of a subsidy for them to "operate effectively." Source: DS, 2/18/74.
1974, July 1 - Beacon Ambulance Service, Inc. of Raleigh begins ambulance service as contracted by Durham County. They are contracted for one year. Source: DS, 5/28/75.
1974, July 9, - Durham Rescue 11 collides with a truck at Roxboro Road and Geer Street. The squad was responding to a medical call, and struck a pick-up truck that didn't stop for the lights and siren. The pick-up truck overturned, and slid into a dump truck parked nearby. No serious injuries were reported. The cab of the rescue truck is totaled. Source: DMH, 10//74.
Durham Morning Herald photo, July 1974. Source: 1_06_25_176 in the Durham Herald Company Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
1974, fall - Eight Parkwood firemen are certified as Emergency Medical Technicians.
1974, November 5 - Durham Sun reports that Durham Rescue 11 has returned to service, with a new/updated truck that was received last week. The original Murphy body has been remounted on a larger chassis with a larger cab. Source: DS, 11/4/74.
Durham Sun photos, November 1974. Source: P0105_P0105_1_03_36_189 in the Durham Herald Company Newspaper Photograph Collection #P0105, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
1974, Dec. 5 - Durham Rescue 11 collides with car at Roxboro Street and Lakewood Avenue, while en route to a medical call. The squad sustains nearly $900 damage, while the car is totaled. The driver of the car receives minor injuries, and is charged with failing to yield the right of way. Sources: DMH, 12/5/74.
Photo credit TBD
1975 - Original incarnation of Durham County EMS is formed.
In April 1975, county commissioners grant management privileges to newly formed Durham County Hospital Corporation. Initial fleet consists of four BLS units and crews, and operated from the old Lincoln Community Health Center and old Watts Hospital. Average call volume is 750-900 per month. Units are named Rescue 1, Rescue 2, etc. They have two-person crews. Source: DS, 5/28/75.
1975, June 1 - Durham County Hospital Corporation starts ambulance service at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 1. The county-owned service has six ambulances staffed by Emergency Medical Technicians. Five will be placed in service at Watts and Lincoln hospitals. The sixth will serve as a "standby vehicle." Fees are charged for the service. Source: DS, 5/28/75.
1976, Dec 30 - Durham Sun reports that Triangle Ambulance and Convalescent
Services Inc. has started operating, and may help relieve the burden on the
county ambulance system for transport of non-emergency patients. They are
located at 2902 [?] Hillsborough Road. Source: DS, 12/30/76.
1976 - Parkwood FD receives a new modular ambulance (Rescue 9), ordered through Governor's Highway Safety Program with matching funds. Placed in service October 1976. Truck was chosen to accompany President Ford, during his visit to the North Carolina State Fair that month.
Photo credit TBD
1975-76 - Rescue 11 personnel trained to EMT-I level.
1979, July - Durham City Council again rejects request for a second recue truck. They have tried for the last two years. Notes the Public Safety Director, the county is so large that one truck cannot cover the entire area consistently. He wants to add a second truck and split the response time. Currently, when Rescue 11 is not available, the department instead sends a city police car, city fire truck, or a fire truck from one of Durham's three volunteer FDs.
The proposal has also received criticism, including from the Durham County Ambulance Service Director, a former DFD rescue squad member. He says that though Rescue 11 is often dispatched, it's usually "turned back" before reaching the scene. In April 1979, notes a news story, Rescue 11 was cancelled only about 22 percent of the time. The director also believes that most calls could be handled without the assistance of the rescue truck, which is not needed "ninety percent of the time."
During April 1979, Rescue 11 answered an average of 8.1 calls per 24-hour shift, and took an average of 21.1 minutes to arrive at each call. Source: DHM, 7/22/79.
1980 to 1989
David Raynor photo