February 1, 1969 a Federal Law suit was won in which ambulance workers were entitled to a minimum wage when on call at their homes. This suit had far reaching financial indications for small funeral home based ambulance services. Also a bill, was proposed in the Missouri legislature that required minimum standards for ambulance equipment and personnel. The cost could be a much as $7,000 per ambulance. On July 1, 1969, the Meramec Valley Funeral Directors Association informed the county that they were getting out of the ambulance business. Harrison Eaton, of Hasebroek and Eaton in Sullivan, said he was going out of the ambulance business on June 30 whether anyone else does or not.
A study committee was form by Ralph Smith, then Presiding Judge of Franklin County with representatives from each community, including County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Davis, and Ray Steffens representing the County Court. Some ideas included Private services, public services (i.e. Fire departments, hospital orderlies or volunteers or a combination of all three). Dr. Sam Bonny of Washington was a key supporter of creating a highly trained group of emergency workers for the community.
The Oltmann family of Union, that owns Oltmann’s Funeral Home, was providing ambulance service for the Union, Villa Ridge and part of Gray Summit area. In 1969 they were able to place three ambulances on the street when the calls came in. The staff for the ambulances were primarily members of the Oltmann family and a core of part time staff that they could contact at home to respond to the funeral home and pick up an ambulance when the need arose.
Mr. Oltmann talked about arriving at the emergency department of St. Francis Hospital and having to ring a door bell to have a nurse come down and unlock the door at nights. Upon be examined by the nurse, a doctor would get called to respond to the hospital to help treat the patient. At this time there were only two treatment rooms in the emergency department. This remained until the early 1970’s.
Ralph Oltmann stated that in the years leading up to 1969 they responded on up to 300 ambulance incidents a year. Their charge for a trip to Washington was $5.00 and to transport a patient into St. Louis was $15.00. When the decision to discontinue service was made by Pop Oltmann and Ralph they were able to draw on some community minded citizens that were members of the Union Fire Department and some of their part time help.
The formation of the Union Community Ambulance Service was created around the kitchen table at the Oltmann home. With the expertise of the original members; Leroy Strubberg, Don Wilmesher, Gene Crews, Dave Schink, Pat Nappier, Gene Wissmann and Bob Mittler they were able to recruit additional members within weeks for the formation of the service. The Oltmann Family donated a 1963 Cadillac and a 1966 Ford Station Wagon and all of the equipment with a value of over $6,000 to the newly formed ambulance service. For the first few months the ambulances were to be housed next to the funeral home until later in 1969 when the ambulance service rented an old Sinclair gas station that was located near Hwy 50 and Springfield in Union. With fund raisers and some arm twisting the group was able to purchase a 1969 Chevy suburban ambulance that they could transport four lay down patients in. Within a few months, the new ambulance services were tested with the bombing of the Court House in Union. Ambulances coming from as far as Marthasville to assist showed that these groups could work together.
Otto and Neiburg -Vitt funeral homes in Washington discontinued service in July of 1969 with the City of Washington taking on that responsibility. In the early days several companies in Washington would staff the ambulance in Washington with two members of their work force keeping that ambulance at their place of business. Unlike Union, the City of Washington leased the ambulances from the funeral homes, and after a period of time purchased them.
Casey-Lenox Funeral Home in St. Clair also stopped running ambulances on July 1st and donated their vehicles and equipment to the newly formed St. Clair Ambulance Service.
In 1971 Meyer Funeral Home discontinued ambulance service on June 1, 1971 for the community of Gerald. On July 22, 1971 the Gerald Ambulance Service went into operations.
In 1971, with funds and labor donated by the community and members of the ambulance service a building was built on the North West corner of Locust and Linden Street after the City of Union donated the property. This building served the organization until 1986 when the Union Ambulance District purchased the old City Fire Station at 24 Church Street.
With changes in the law enacted in 1973, minimum training and equipment was required by the State. Members of the Union Ambulance Service undertook training as EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians). Also in this Statue there was a provision for the formation of a taxing district to provide emergency medical care. In 1974 the Union Ambulance District was voted in by the citizens of the Union area.
1976 saw John Devos hold the distinction of being the first paramedic licensed in Franklin County. Later that year, the district hired their first paid staff for day time operations. That year East Central College started a Paramedic program for area EMS workers. That summer also saw the staffing of a physician in the emergency department 24 hours a day. That year the City of Washington and the St. Clair Ambulance District also began hiring full time day staff to comply with the increased call volume and to staff up to the level of paramedics. By the fall of 1976 the hospital moved to its current location and opened with three treatment rooms and one large ward area.
In 1979 St. Frances Mercy in conjunction with varies ambulance services developed a protocol for advanced life support under the medical direction of Dr. Fred Zahn. Around that time St. Frances was renamed St. John’s Mercy Hospital, Washington. In 1980 the residences voted in the Washington Ambulance district ending a 11 year job taken on by the City of Washington.
In the mid 1990’s St. John’s Mercy obtained and has maintained a level three Trauma Center rating and has enlarged the Emergency Department to its current size of 15 treatment rooms. IN 1997 the Union Ambulance District moved their base of operation to their current location at 211 South Church Street and in 2008 dedication House Two at 1757 Old Hwy 50 East. That same year the District acquired property for a third building at the corner of Hwy 50 and Hwy BB.
Currently, Franklin Count is serviced by seven ambulance districts and one hospital base service in Sullivan. All groups are staffed with full time staff including paramedics 24 hours a day. Our local EMS workers have taken training in various area of emergency medicine from Trauma, Pediatric, Burn and Advance Life Support programs.
Districts operating in Franklin County are on the cutting edge of Pre-Hospital medicine. They have the ability to obtain and transmit EKG’s to the emergency department were a highly trained emergency staff physicians can interpret the heart tracing and assist with decisions on patient care and delivery. Under the Medical Direction of Dr. Bret Riegel, protocols that the ambulances use are constantly changing and improving to provide better care for the out of hospital patient.
Each community in the region has its founding members and people that have made a significant contribution to create an Emergency Medical Service that we all can be proud of. There is not enough space to include these people but they know who they are, and should hold their head up when they see an ambulance go running down the road.