The founding years of Boundary Ambulance

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Drew Rinella Guest Opinion

As 2019 draws to a close, Boundary Ambulance proudly approaches 55 years of service to our community. To our knowledge this makes us the oldest ambulance service still in operation within the State of Idaho.

Although much of our five and a half decades of lore is lost to the past, we owe it to our longest currently serving EMT — Pam Hamilton — for preserving a great amount of our history through photo albums and newspaper clippings. Her efforts have allowed us to reconnect with our past, and to guide our tradition of service into the future. I would like to share with you some of the highlights of our founding years:

In 1964 American Legion Post 55 recognized the need for an ambulance service in Boundary County, as the only emergency service vehicles available at the time for transportation of the ill and injured were the sheriff’s patrol wagons. The Legion began a community fundraising effort, collecting $4,322 for the purchase of a reconditioned 1959 blue Cadillac ambulance with 63,000 miles, and resulting in the formation of Boundary Volunteer Ambulance headed by Leroy Kelson in February, 1965.

Our 1965 articles of incorporation defined our enduring values: To render aid and assistance to victims of illness and accident, to transport the ill and injured to and from places where medical assistance is rendered, to assist in matters of National Defense, and to be a benevolent corporation for the welfare of the general public.

Prior to receipt of our first ambulance, an article was published in the newspaper advertising the first membership drive, including criteria that applicants must be men 25 years or older, with prior first aid training being unnecessary. This appears to have been quickly reconsidered still prior to receipt of the ambulance, with a following article “appealing for women volunteers to help with ambulance runs, to aid patient comfort with the ‘woman’s touch’.” To this day Boundary Ambulance’s response roster includes a percentage of women greater than the current industry average of about 30 percent.

By August of 1965 the number of volunteers dwindled from 32 to 15, and another appeal for membership was made to assist with the service’s average call volume of 9 runs per month (a number which has since multiplied by a factor of 10). The ambulance service telephone was located in the Sheriff’s office, and could be reached by dialing AN-7-2233. In 1975 some residents became concerned that the “new ‘911’ emergency number had resulted in waits [for service].” In 1973 we received a two-way radio which could communicate with area hospitals (an item now ubiquitous on ambulances), and an article was published announcing a training session for ambulance volunteers on how to operate the new radio.

For many years the all-volunteer service was fueled by generosity and kindness alone. As our volunteers served the community, our community returned that kindness many times over with their support of our mission, raising funds for new equipment, and with many employers allowing our volunteer providers to leave work for emergency responses.

In 2013 an ambulance taxing district was formed to support the hiring of full-time Advanced Life Support (ALS) paramedics. This allows us now to provide around-the-clock ALS response utilizing the advanced lifesaving technology and interventions reserved to the Paramedic licensure level by the State EMS Bureau.

If you have stories or photos of the early years of Boundary Ambulance, please help us chronicle our past by emailing them to info@boundaryambulance.org. We wish to thank our founders for their vision, our EMTs — past and present — for their service, and the people of Boundary County for your support. We look forward to 2020, and to the next 55 years of service to our community.

• • •

Drew Rinella is a paramedic, and the captain of operations for Boundary Ambulance Service in Bonners Ferry.

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