In 1969 Emergency Rescue, Inc. (ERI) was formed as a volunteer ambulance squad to serve the growing central south portion of Dekalb County, Georgia. For decades, the area had been served by the Horace Ward Funeral Home which operated several ambulance/hearse combination cars which were equipped with oxygen, a rudimentary first aid kit and a stretcher. The funeral home, like many others, realized that newly evolving Federal ambulance equipment, training and minimum wage recommendations would eventually affect the funeral homes ability to continue providing ambulance service. The Federal government was also beginning to mandate that individual states adopt such standards or risk loosing their Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) Highway Safety Matching Funds.
So the Horace Ward Funeral Home, having served generations of longtime South Dekalb families, began exploring a respectable “exit strategy” which would allow for gracefully ending their ambulance service without appearing that they were abandoning the community.
In 1969, the founder of ERI had relocated to the South Decatur area from Virginia where he was very familiar with the well established volunteer rescue squads that had existed in that state for decades. He happened to meet Horace Ward, Sr. and the two began discussions on how both the funeral home and the community could benefit if a volunteer ambulance squad was able to form and begin serving the South Decatur and Dekalb County area.
The two soon agreed on a plan and approached county officials who approved with the idea. The funeral home agreed to provide its low-roof Chevrolet “suburban” truck to serve as the squad’s first vehicle along with a two-level and folding stretcher, an oxygen inhalator and some funding for additional first aid supplies. The vehicle had been previously used as the funeral home “first out” emergency vehicle in order to minimize the usage of its several other Cadillac “hearse/ambulance” combination vehicles.
The founder began recruiting members and also approached a local Citizens & Southern (C&S) Bank, which agreed to provide a small, unused office building on Ellington Street at Covington Highway as the squad’s headquarters.
The new members were required to complete both the Red Cross Standard and Advanced First Aid and the newly introduced CPR courses. Even by the late 60’s, ambulance service for Dekalb County was mostly provided by funeral homes except for Decatur Ambulance Service in the City of Decatur. A Grady Hospital Ambulance was also stationed at the Dekalb County Police Headquarters which also provided ambulance dispatch and had a specific VHF channel that authorized ambulances used to communicate back to the police. The fire department also responded to EMS calls using pumpers equipped with an E&J Resuscitator and first aid trained firemen.
By latter 1969, Emergency Rescue, Inc. was operational from 6pm to 7am on Monday through Thursday and from 6pm on Friday until 7am on Monday morning since all of the members worked their regular jobs during the week. The ambulance was always staffed with two “squad men” and an officer. In 1971, ERI took delivery on a used 1967 Chevrolet Wayne/DIVCO 54” raised roof ambulance that had been previously used by a rescue squad in Virginia. It came equipped with additional basic life support equipment and a number of the members also began to complete the newly offered Georgia 81-hour EMT-Ambulance training program. For the next several years, ERI responded to hundreds of ambulance calls in the South Dekalb Area and provided back-up to the City of Decatur when requested.
In February of 1972, the NBC television show “EMERGENCY!” made its National debut. Later that same year, the Dekalb County Fire Department would be appointed to assume responsibility for establishing a county-wide ambulance paramedic level emergency medical service (EMS). In early 1973, the fire department stationed its first three ambulances at fire station 3 in Avondale (adjacent to Decatur), Station 11 in Stone Mountain and at Station 7 in South Dekalb County, essentially taking over ERI’s former primary coverage area. The fire department then assumed coverage for the Central portion of the county and was soon followed by the Northern portion. ERI agreed to be available to provide back-up when requested during the total transition, but the interest of the volunteer membership had declined by this time. ERI did remain in existence for some time providing contracted special event ambulance coverage until it was decided to end its operation.
During its existence, Emergency Rescue, Inc. was widely recognized as providing both rapid response and quality emergency medical care to the citizens of South Decatur and South Dekalb County and for saving many lives. The community supported ERI through regular long-term donations and ERI had a great working relationship with both the police and fire department. Emergency Rescue, Inc. and its pioneering members will long be remembered for the excellent service they provided and being one of two all-volunteer ambulance squads that ever existed in Georgia.
Keywords: Dekalb, ERI, Georgia, Ward, funeral
Last Revision Date: 12/2/10 - 0:35 AM