Amazing Facts

History of Ambulance

For thousands of years, a soldier downed on the
field of battle was
likely to lie where he fell until nightfall-or even longer. Then, in
the unlikely event he showed signs of life, he might be dragged or
carted to a doctor for treatment. This grim situation remained
relatively unchanged until 1240, when Italy’s Misericordia di Firenze,
the first known emergency-care service, was founded.

Though rudimentary horse-drawn conveyances for
the wounded made
sporadic appearances after that-at the Battle of Málaga in 1487, for
example-it was not until 1792 that ambulances became a regular part of
the battlefield scene. That was the year Baron Dominique-Jean Larrey, a
French army surgeon, organized what he called the ambulances colantes,
or flying field hospitals. Little more than covered, portable litters
fitted with equipment, these ambulances were capable of providing
front-line medical care.

The first modern ambulance system appeared in
the 19th century,
during the Civil War, when Dr. Jonathan Letterman, medical director of
the Army of the Potomac, assigned two horse-drawn ambulances to every
regiment of 500 infantrymen. In 1864 the Geneva Convention recognized
military ambulances, declaring that the vehicles, the wounded they
carried, and the medics that operated them should be considered neutral.

Even before the Civil War ended, the first
nonmilitary ambulance
service was organized in Cincinnati, Ohio, by the Commercial Hospital.
And less than 10 years later, the first airborne ambulances-hot-air
balloons-drifted to the fore in France, during the Siege of Paris
(1870-71). Unfortunately, the speed and ultimate destinations of the
balloons depended entirely on the whims of the wind-and so did the fate
of their wafting wounded.

By the 1930s most of America had some sort of
ambulance service,
though many were operated by funeral directors, hardly a cheering
thought for those being rushed to the hospital. As for the ambulances
themselves, they were not much more than “horizontal” taxicabs. Today
U.S., state, and local laws require that most ambulances carry vital
life-support and emergency-care equipment-oxygen masks, suction
devices, intravenous systems, etc.-so that emergency victims may be
treated and their conditions stabilized even before they reach the
hospital. Ambulances in most major cities are now “operated” by
paramedics, who are trained and equipped to handle a wide range of
trauma and injuries on the scene and to provide as much emergency care
as possible before the patient is transported to the hospital. The goal
for most ambulance services today is to provide true emergency care,
rather than simply transportation to the hospital.

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