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Written: January 3, 2004
Updated: February 2012
J. Stuart Platt, EMS Shift Supervisor
In 1863, with the Civil War raging in the North and Sherman's infamous march through South Carolina and the burning of Lexington and Columbia still in the future, battle wounded were taken from the field by four-wheeled ambulances drawn by two horses.
The crew consisted of a driver and two stretcher bearers who would load as many as four patients on litters to be transported to field hospitals near the battle.
In 1963, ambulances were four-wheeled hearses or station wagons manned by at least one attendant. They were run by the local hospital, funeral home, volunteer or fire department rescue squads.
These vehicles were no better equipped to deal with an emergency victim than the stretcher-bearers of the Civil War. During both eras, patients were placed on stretchers and rushed to the nearest hospital. The attendants initiated no treatments to the patient.
During the mid 1960's, "Ambulance Drivers" began getting trained in First Aid and a technique that was just becoming available to the public, called Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation or CPR. Statistics at the time proved that Americans were dying on our highways at an alarming rate, and that proper pre-hospital care could save thousands of lives. It was at this time that the concept of paramedics was born.
Dr. Eugene Nagel from the University of Miami Medical School held the first paramedic school at the University of Miami and called these graduates "Physician Extenders." By March 1967, these paramedics were transmitting heart rhythms to Jackson Memorial Hospital, with a unit that weighed a combined 54 pounds.
The first actual volunteer rescue squad that provided first aid was established in Roanoke, Virginia in 1928, but it wasn't until 1969 that a volunteer squad received the training and equipment to function as paramedics. In 1969, North Carolina began the first volunteer paramedic rescue squad.
In 1967, Dr. Michael Criley and Dr. James Lewis commenced a pilot program in Los Angeles, California, at Harbor General Hospital, that consisted of eighteen firefighters, twelve from Los Angeles County Fire Department and six from Los Angeles City Fire Department.
In Los Angeles on September 12, 1969, the firefighters began an intensive 180 hours of training that included classroom, laboratory and chemical instruction, under the tutelage of C.C.U. Nurse Carol Bebout.
By December 1969, they were ready to go; however, they had no legal authority. Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' Kenny Hahn (who became known as the "Father" of the Paramedic Program) pushed legislation through the Board and presented it to State Senator James Wedworth and State Assemblyman Larry Townsend. Both the house and the senate approved legislation that gave legal authority for paramedics to perform, and on July 14, 1970, Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Wedworth-Townsend Act into law. Los Angeles County and City Paramedics were on the go.
Through this and other successful programs in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Florida, it was determined that with proper training, paramedics could perform the same treatment that physicians would administer if they were on the scene.
Lexington County has seen many changes in pre-hospital emergency care. Throughout the county, ambulance service used to be provided by the local funeral homes.
In 1966, Caughman-Harman funeral home donated a Dodge Ambulance-wagon to be used by the Chapin Volunteer Fire Department as an ambulance and rescue vehicle.
During the late 1960's, Lexington County contracted with Columbia Ambulance Service to provide emergency transport. Two ambulances were stationed in the county in Swansea and West Columbia. The units transported patients to the Columbia Hospital.
In addition, the Pelion Rescue Squad was established in 1968 and began using a Ford Ambulance-wagon also donated by Caughman-Harman funeral home. The volunteer squad provided Basic and Advanced Life Support services until it disbanded 32 years later in early 2000.
In the mid 1970's, the Batesburg Rescue Squad was formed with a hearse donated by Milton Shealy's Funeral Home. This entirely volunteer unit continues to provide paramedic service to the citizen's of the county.
For a while, Carolina Ambulance Service provided service until in 1973, the county contracted Paramed, Inc. to manage the ambulances and establish a paramedic service.
On Tuesday, January 1, 1974, at 9:00 in the morning, Paramed turned over operations to the county and Lexington County Ambulance Service was established. Initially, it was staffed with 16 people - two shifts of eight including two supervisors.
The first employees were James "Bunny" Ard, Barry Ballington, Bobby Bernard, John Bolton, Marvin Boyd, Hugh Brannon, Phil Carey, Steve Carey, Jon Coleman, James "Jimmy" Greene, Neils Hanson, Ray Kannaday, Ronnie Kitchings, Oneil "Buzz" Miller, Don Simmons and Robert "Buzz" Spake.
Each shift worked 24 hours shifts and were off for 24 hours. Four units responded from substations in Batesburg, Swansea, West Columbia and Irmo.
The original substations were located beside the Batesburg Health Center at 231 West Church Street, Swansea Health Center, the 498th MAST terminal at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport (nicknamed "Metro Unit") and the old Irmo Fire Station on St. Andrews Road.
On Feb. 17th 1974, EMTs Jimmy Greene and Ray Kannaday were attributed with resuscitating a local physician.
On June 27th, 1974, John Andrews, Hugh Brannon, Phil Carey, Mike Catoe, Jon Coleman, James "Jimmy" Greene, Neils Hanson, and Don Simmons of Lexington County Ambulance Service, graduated in the first group of Advanced EMTs or paramedics, as they are known today. By contrast the first two New York City Paramedic units did not go into service until July 5, 1974, at the Bronx Municipal Hospital Center.
By the early 1990's, Lexington County EMS had grown to include 51 employees working three 24-hour shifts. They were headed by the EMS Coordinator and three Shift Supervisors. Seven units were dispatched by 911 on more than 13,000 calls a year from substations in Lexington, Cayce, West Columbia, Irmo, Chapin, Batesburg and Swansea. Batesburg and Pelion Rescue Squads responded to more than 1200 calls.
In 1992, Council approved an eighth unit for the Boiling Springs area south of Gilbert.
In 1993, a ninth unit was added in the Hollow Creek area along the southern shore of Lake Murray west of the Town of Lexington.
In 2000, a tenth unit was added in the Pelion community to continue service formerly provided by the Pelion Rescue Squad.
On June 17, 2003, all personnel were converted from 24/48 or 12-hour shifts to a uniform 12-hour day or night shift.
Today, Lexington County EMS employs over 100 full and part-time employees working 12-hour shifts. The staff includes the EMS Coordinator, Assistant Chief, Training Officer, Eight Shift Supervisors, Logistics Officer, Administrative Assistant and Billing Clerk. The ambulances are staffed with Senior Paramedics, Paramedics, EMT-Intermediates or Emergency Medical Technicians.
Up to 11 ambulances are available throughout a 24-hour day, with up to 3, 12-hour peak-time units available during the busiest times of the day. In addition, personnel in Quick Response Vehicles (QRV's) and Fire Department Rescue vehicles provide first response and Automated External Defibrillator capability when ambulances are far from the scene. Units are dispatched to over 30,000 responses annually by a 911 computer-aided-dispatch center using Automatic Vehicle Locators and staffed by Emergency Medical Dispatchers.
Personnel are trained to provide oxygen, initiate IV therapy, administer medications, interpret EKG's, defibrillate, cardiovert, perform pulse oximetry, assess patients, and perform all aspects of pre-hospital emergency care.