HOLLIDAYSBURG – The automobile has changed the face of America.
Travel, tourism, navigation, commerce: the benefits seemed endless, and the people of Blair County quickly caught the trend in 1909 by creating one of the oldest gas stations in the country – Reighard’s, 3205 Sixth Ave. – which is still operational today.
But the newly paved highways brought more to the region than buyers, workers and innovators: vehicle accidents tended to increase.
In 1915, vehicle crashes were found to be responsible for about 6,600 deaths nationwide, while rail transport was only responsible for about 200 deaths, according to the National Museum of American History. In 1925, the number of vehicle deaths skyrocketed to around 22,000, quadrupling in the space of a decade, while the number of deaths in rail transport fell to around 170.
American Legion Post No. 516 Veterans “Fort Fetter” in Hollidaysburg realized that more and more people needed to go to Altoona Hospital and that they had to do it quickly.
Pooling their funds in 1939, the Post bought a 1937 LaSalle ambulance and began providing the area with emergency transportation service, later dubbed the American Legion Ambulance Club of Hollidaysburg.
After 82 years, numerous ambulances, several home bases and several generations of volunteers, the ambulance club is still in operation, albeit under a different name: Hollidaysburg American Legion Ambulance Service.
“Call and carry”
Originally founded as a free service to the community, members of the local post quickly discovered that the demand for emergency transport was too high to be sustained indefinitely, said HALAS executive director Jessica Sorge.
“About a decade after buying their first ambulance, they formed the Ambulance Club, which offered something like insurance,” Sorge said, explaining that membership guaranteed quick access to ambulance services. “Something we are still doing today.”
Beginning in 1952, households in the Hollidaysburg area had access to ambulance services for $ 2 per year. About 200 households signed up in the first year, and by 1957 the club had up to 500 members with an additional charge of $ 5 per race for non-members using the service.
“At the time, we weren’t offering much in terms of medical treatment – most of us had little or no medical training – so it was basically a call-in service. and transport. said Jerry Corbin, 77, HALAS board member and former paramedic.
Corbin started working with the club at the age of 14, and a photo of his father, Alvin, still hangs in the lobby of HALAS headquarters.
Corbin’s sister, Debby Stitt, said their father was among the club’s first directors at a time when everyone was volunteering.
“Everything around our house was linked to an ambulance or a fire”, Stitt called back. “I think I probably started doing billing for the ambulance club when I was 10 years old.”
Long before Corbin used a Phoenix Fire Company ladder truck to install rafters for the first official HALAS base on Wayne Street, the ambulance operated from a gas station on Allegheny Street.
“Sam Downing’s gas station on Allegheny between Spring Street and Condron Street,” Corbin called back.
When the gas station was no longer an option, they parked the ambulance in Perry William’s garage.
“The space was so tight you had to back it up until the bumper hit the wall or you wouldn’t make the door shut” Corbin remembered, chuckling.
In 1967, about a year after Corbin returned from serving in the Vietnam War, construction of the Wayne Street Ambulance Club facilities began, which enabled them to purchase a second ambulance, to meet the growing demand.
The building was opened in 1970 and in 1972 the ambulance club recruited its first ambulance attendant, Jane Carles.
Before the 1970s, paramedics provided little medical care to their passengers.
“We have fought long and hard for training and certification to provide better care,” said Corbin.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health sponsored the region’s first paramedic training course – a 40-hour course – in 1973, and by 1975, Hollidaysburg first responders had access to federal emergency medical technician courses. , according to the HALAS files.
As training opportunities increased, so did local, state and federal policies regulating ambulance services and personnel, Sorge said.
On paper, the ambulance club split from the American Legion primarily for accountability reasons, but the two have remained intrinsically linked. Today, 50% of HALAS board members are appointed to the American Legion, Sorge said.
In 1988, HALAS was granted the status of a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.
“We do not receive municipal funding, so as a nonprofit we are eligible for a number of tax breaks that allow us to continue to provide high level service to the community. “ Sorge said.
Despite their nonprofit status, fundraising only covers about 2% of HALAS ‘annual budget, Corbin said. The remainder comes from the financing of subsidies, contributions and insurance reimbursements.
In the late 1980s, the organization hired its first employee.
“He was a concierge,” Corbin said, unable to remember the man’s name. “He kept the place clean and answered calls during the day as it was difficult to have volunteers during working hours.
Shortly thereafter, a full-time managerial position was added along with pay options for five paramedics and 10 additional paramedics.
On their toes
Today, HALAS operates a fleet of nine ambulances, one patrol truck and employs a team of full-time and part-time first responders based at its new facility, built in 1997 on Scotch Valley Road.
But, volunteers remain essential to day-to-day operations.
“We couldn’t do it without our volunteers”, Sorge said. “We rely on grants to help us buy a lot of our equipment, and we don’t have a dedicated grant writer, so our volunteers are stepping up. “
First responders are typically underpaid for their expertise, Sorge said, but HALAS ‘roster of emergency personnel is dedicated to their community and their profession, which keeps them competitive in a county where service providers d ambulances compete for municipal contracts and larger coverage areas.
“But, it is important for us to continue to serve our community without turning it into a business”, she said. “It was started by men and women who did it at their own pace, because the need was felt. And we think it’s important to continue this legacy.
For Corbin, who remembers a time before two-way radios were commonplace in ambulances, the world of first responders is barely recognizable.
“We made the first 911 expedition in the region, and we did it from the mayor’s office”, he recalled. “It was cramped and stuffy, but we loved what we did. I never imagined that all of this would get to the size it is now, but if we continue to hire dedicated people like Jessica Sorge, I know we’ll be there for decades to come.