In 1935, a group of Greenport firemen were not happy with the ambulance service in our area. The main reason being one of our firemen had an ankle injury at a fire, (as far as we knew it could have been broken), so we put in a call for an ambulance. After three quarters of an hour, and no ambulance, we took him in our fire truck.
At a later date a discussion was had in regard to getting our own emergency truck to be used with our fire district, and we finally decided we would go ahead. A Committee was set up to see what such a venture would require, as well as to get an okay from the Fire Commission. When the committee brought back the report it was studied by the Fire Company and accepted.
One of the first things we had to do was have a First Aid course. Since there were no First Aid instructors in our area we approached the Albany Chapter of the American Red Cross who would send us an instructor from their area. This, and other information, was put to a vote. Practically every person present voted in favor of the motion and also agreed to take the First Aid class. There were approximately fifty that took the course and passed.
Now came the big problem - where to get a vehicle for our purpose. Again a Committee was formed to find such a car. Before long, they came back with a second-hand hearse, at a cost of either $275.00 or $375.00 which we were able to get together to pay for it. Then the members got busy rebuilding, repainting and putting in a new floor. The necessary materials were begged and borrowed or gotten any way we could. Most of the labor was done by our members, but we did have a little outside help.
By the time our First Aid class was over our ambulance was ready to roll. Equipment was all we needed. In those days a lot of our equipment was hand made. Board splints were used for almost any break. When you stop to think about that it required 2-6 foot boards and 3-15 inch boards for a possible broken back, plus about twelve triangular bandages and three blankets, you can see that plenty of equipment was needed. The splints and bandages we made ourselves, with help from our good wives to hem the bandages. Some members donated their own money to buy linens.
Now came the time for a few practice runs, which were necessary. The catch being that if you wanted to go on a practice run you had to pitch in to buy gas.
Probably the first break we had was when they ran the stock car races at Philmont and asked us to stand by. They donated a few dollars for this service every time, all of which was put into new equipment.
At first the doctors and hospital were not behind us so it was up to the Squad to show them we deserved a little recognition-which we did. Finally we got a couple of prominent doctors behind us after which the hospital started to help us out. This was a big boost to our morale as well as our purse. The hospital supplied us with oxygen and the use of blankets and linens. A couple of the doctors gave us good advice on how to handle our patients to the best advantage.
Originally, the ambulance was for our own firemen and their families. However after a while some friends in Hudson or the vicinity would ask if we would take one of their family to or from the hospital. This posed another problem - namely, were we allowed to venture outside the town to pick up patients? After obtaining legal advice, we found we could do this as long as we did not charge. The donations we got from these trips helped again to add and improve our equipment.
About this time, we decided that we needed a newer ambulance. We found another second hand hearse, but the cost was around $900, which we didnít have. One of our own members loaned us the money. We got the hearse and worked on it, as on the previous one, only a little better. We had more to work with. We decided to put on a fund drive to pay the loan. If the writer remembers correctly, this drive was to be just in Greenport. Much to our pleasant surprise, we received approximately $1,200.00, so we paid off the cost of the ambulance with some left over.
In 1940, we started taking hospital ambulance calls. The hospital ambulance was operated by a taxi company in Hudson. None of the drivers had first aid training, so after a few mishandled cases, the hospital called a meeting with some squad members and offered its ambulance if we would cover all calls. We agreed to take over the ambulance provided the hospital would supply us with the equipment we needed, plus other considerations. All was agreed on.
In 1941, we took over the hospital ambulance, and that was the beginning of two ambulances for the squad.
Some doctors were still of the opinion that we couldnít handle all the calls. Some times we ourselves wondered. However, we stuck to it, and I guess we were lucky. We almost always had someone around who either worked nights, or could take off from work or business for day calls. There never was any trouble getting a crew at night. The hospital and doctors cooperated with us on their transportation calls, which we would try to work in when we had help available.
The squad incorporated in 1943 since it had too much business to put through the fire department.
As our ambulance service grew it meant more responsibility to the public, including the best first aid possible. This meant more classes and practice. There were always changes for the better, so we had to keep up. We had practice at our monthly meetings. Some members either couldnít or wouldnít show up for these meetings, so we had to put teeth into the by-laws. Members had to keep up their first aid cards and attend so many meetings or be dropped from the roster. This meant some members who had helped organize the squad had to go, which led to some hard feelings for which we were very sorry, but where our patients were concerned there was no other course. We gave special classes for those who worked nights and had missed too may classes in the regular courses. The instructors gave their time to do these members a favor. We did not see where we could do more.
About this time we began wondering if we should think about a new ambulance. We had second-hand ones about long enough and they were beginning to cost too much to keep in repair. We were requested to make a trip to White Plains. We gambled and took it. On the way down things went fine. On the way back things changed-the old buggy just didnít want to keep going. About every fifteen minutes we had to get out and tap the carburator with a pair of pliers so it would start up and run again. It was a good thing there was a man with us who knew about cars or we would be sitting there yet.
We got $100.00 for the trip, and that looked like the U.S. mint to us. It was one of the longest trips we had made and if we could make this kind of money there was no reason we couldnít take a chance on a new ambulance.
A fund drive was set up that again went better than we had ever hoped. In 1947, we bought a new Cadillac. With money left over and a little more push, we bought our second new Cadillac in 1948. From then on we made trips all over: to Buffalo, New York, Atlantic City, Rutland, Vt. Philadelphia and other distant places. When we got our second ambulance in 1948 we had a total of 673 calls for the year.
Our next ambulances were purchased in 1953, whish is the year the famous Greenport "green" went into effect. All our ambulances since that time have been the same green. After 1953, we tried to replace the ambulances every three to four years. This gave us a trade in value of enough to buy two new ambulances for the price of one, as well as to keep the best equipment possible on the road. There is nothing more that will tear down your public image than to have an ambulance break down on an emergency call. It will happen to the best of them.
When we got two new ambulances we decided we should have something more suitable for rough calls, so we bought an International four-wheel drive. That was one of the best moves the squad ever made. This vehicle answers all fire calls and drownings and other hazardous terrains, which saved wear and tear on the more expensive Cadillac. This ambulance also tows our boats around wherever they are needed. This year (1962) is when we started operating three ambulances, which we have been doing ever since.
To mention just a few of the more involved calls, we have had two train wrecks, one at Poolesburg in the northern part of Columbia County. This involved all ambulances in our area, plus others for the Albany areas. Anyone who was on that call will never forget the hill that we had to carry the victims up to the ambulances. There were doctors also at the scene; they too, had to climb the hill after checking the victims. It is a wonder we didnít have some heart cases in our own crew. The patients were taken to the Hudson hospital and also to the Albany hospitals.
The other one was in our area, just south of the Hudson station at the South Bay area. This brought out all ambulances in our area, while others outside of our area stood by. This wreck was in 1963. There were 24 injured, one critical. The worse part of this was the area we had to reach to bring the victims out. Most of them were either carried out or brought out with the aid of the four-wheel drive and all of the County Rescue Squads.
This wreck showed that the disaster drills which were held at the hospital paid off. The victims were handled without too much confusion and everyone knew just what they were supposed to do. There was a little confusion with people trying to find out about their relatives who might have been on the train, but this was also handled very well by hospital personnel.
The hospital and rescue squads deserved much credit for this call. Also, the Hudson police for keeping the roads clear for the ambulances and keeping the crowds back. The police department and the fire police were a part of the disaster drills that were held.
One morning we had a call for an automobile accident on Rt. 217. When we arrived we thought we had our hands full-there were people strewn all over an empty lot and a flat body truck lay on its side. You never heard such moaning and groaning. About the time we started checking for injuries, a doctor from Philmont happened by and stopped to give us a hand. He said this reminded him of a battle field he had seen while in the service. This was nowhere near as bad as it looked and sounded. After checking the injured, we only found scrapes and bruises. There were only two that went to the hospital for x-rays, the rest we patched up. Then another truck came and picked them up and took them to the farm where they were to work. This was funny in a serious sort of way, to hear all that moaning and groaning, and to see those men all over the lot, with very few injuries.
One of the closest calls we ever had concerned a family overcome by coal gas. A call came to the hospital for an ambulance right away, all the voice said was "get an ambulance right away". He did give his name but no address. "Hurry or you will be too late." They were lucky that three men from the Greenport Squad had just brought in an auto accident. The operator told us what she had and it was a break that one of the men knew where the house was. They raced there after alerting another ambulance to stand by in quarters. When they got to the house there was no one in sight, so the men started to look in the windows. There they saw a man on the floor with the telephone still in his had. They broke the door down and pulled the man outside and started artificial respirations at once. While two men were doing this, the third man made a search of the house and found a woman. He made a third trip and brought out a second woman. In the meantime, the other ambulance had been called as we needed more help and more oxygen. After working on the three victims for about 45 minutes they responded enough to transport them to the hospital. We are proud to say that we saved these people by every trick in the book on resuscitation. To make the day complete, we gave the dog a shot of oxygen and brought him around, as he had been overcome also. The squad men and the doctors said if it had been another five minutes more, the chances were that we couldnít have saved them.
The explosion at Livingston will never be forgotten by anyone that worked at that disaster. Digging through rubble looking for the bodies of children is something you donít want to do again; it really takes something out of you when you find them. Some things on the ambulance you get used to, but not like this.
We have had quite a few fires that have wiped out entire families, this again includes children. Auto accidents that have taken one or more lives are too numerous to mention. When you get a call for an accident you donít know what you are going to run into. It could be one or ten victims-you have to be ready for anything at any time. Some people will tell you how many are injured and this is a big help.
The drownings we are called to are mostly one or two victims. These are time consuming and very depressing. When you find them you know you cannot do anything for them.
This is a quick summary of our activity of 41 years
Since 1936, we have had 18 ambulances, 15 of them new: also 2 boats and motors. We also built a wing on the Fire House for our ambulances and other equipment. This was done with the labor and some materials donated. In 1937, we had a total of 9 calls. In 1976 we have over 2,000. This gives us a grand total of approximately 40,000 calls for the 41 years we have been organized. These are all volunteers.
At this time, we would like to thank each and every person that helped in anyway to make us one of the outstanding squads in the area. Without you good people, we never could have kept the best ambulances and equipment on the road. So you can feel that you are a part of us and our work.