1928: Americas First Volunteer Rescue Squad

1928: Americas First Volunteer Rescue Squad

Cross Posted: EMS History; Events; Biographies; By Era; Land Based
Submitter/Author: Julian Wise Foundation

As a young boy in 1909, Julian Stanley Wise life immediately changed when he witnessed a drowning in Roanoke, Virginia. "Right then I resolved that I was going to become a lifesaver," he later said. "Never again would I watch a man die when he could be saved." In 1928, Wise organized America's first volunteer rescue squad, the Roanoke Life Saving and First Aid Crew. Ten years later he wrote, "There is no comprehensive history of the safety movement.... someday it will be written and we shall find it a romance of high adventure." Wise passed away in 1985 never having his vision of a "comprehensive history of the safety movement" realized.

With the support of a grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia , the Julian Stanley Wise Foundation was formed in 1988 to chronicle the history of the volunteer rescue squad movement and emergency medical services in America. In a cooperative effort with the Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads, the Wise Foundation raised $1.8 million for the research, design, development and endowment of a national rescue museum which opened in Roanoke, Virginia in 1991. The Julian Stanley Wise Foundation was dedicated to the promotion and support of our nation's emergency medical services, and the individual recognition of those who provided this service, through the "To The Rescue" Museum and associated programs. The National EMS Memorial Service was also held at the Museum each year following a multi-state bike ride. The Museum featured interactive displays such as a fully equipped rescue squad vehicle, an upside down wrecked car and portable radios where visiting children could experience the role of a medic as they responded to simulated calls.


Up until 2006, the "To The Rescue" Museum had been located at a local shopping mall in adjoining Salem, Virginia. Then there was a change in mall management who decided not to renew the lease and instead offered the Museum a smaller space. The Museum determined that it could not fit its expansive collection in the smaller space and soon decided to totally cease operations. When the new National EMS Museum became a reality in 2007, the Julian Stanley Wise Foundation Board decided to donate a large number of previously displayed items. 

Today, the National EMS Museum Foundation continues the vision of Julian Wise, and the great accomplishments of the "To The Rescue" Museum  as we research, document and preserve the comprehensive history of America's emergency care evolvement. Who knows, there may be future generations who will look back at our emergency care history and understand "its romance of high adventure" as Julian Wise had envisioned more than a half-century ago.

Keywords: Roanoake, Wise, Life Saving, Rescue Squad

Last Revision Date: 7/18/08 - 6:36 PM

2 Memory Shared

Report AbusePosted by wallems on Thursday, August 01, 2013 01:52 PM Pacific
Belmar Volunteer First aid squad in New Jersey as well as Spring Lake First Aid both in Monmouth County New Jersey were formed in 1927 making Belmar the oldest in the country and spring lake the second.
Report AbusePosted by mspiggy1 on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 11:26 AM Pacific
Mr. Wise lived near Wasena Elementary School in Roanoke, VA, & I taught there 1976-1994. In the early 80s, I took 5th graders each year on a walking field trip to the home of Mr. Wise in order for them to meet this admirable gentleman who always received us graciously & shared a few memories of past experiences with us.

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