New Hartford’s Ambulance services

It is always somewhat surprising to realize that many institutions, which are apparently part of the community bedrock, are relatively recent in their creation. One of the youngest, and yet most surprising, are the local emergency services. New Hartford’s Volunteer Ambulance Association is a fairly young institution, established within the living memory of many town residents and volunteers.
In the 1960’s New Hartford was served by John (Jack) Shea’s private ambulance. The owner of the funeral home in the center of town, he was well situated to respond to many incidents (this funeral home still exists: Montano-Shea). However, as New Hartford grew it became apparent that a larger service was needed. State regulations had also changed in the late 1960’s, requiring different training and certification. Consequently, Mr. Shea donated his ambulance, for the legal sum of one dollar, to the New Hartford Volunteer Ambulance Association. This organization was formed in 1968 as a volunteer organization with twenty-five members. It’s members received several months of training at the Winsted Hospital before they began service. The ambulance was run out of Jack Hoffman’s Hardware store (Ace Hardware). At the time, the only equipment was the aging Cadillac, which more closely resembled a station wagon than a present-day ambulance. The primary job of the service was to get the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible, as many of the now standard medical practices and medicines were barely in their infancy, if they even existed.
Until 1984 the ambulance was dispatched out of Jack Hoffman’s store in the center of town (this store still exists as Ace Hardware). The actual dispatching was routed through the Winsted police office: they would receive a call, then they would call Jack, Jack would find and call the volunteer on duty and send them out. At night, it was routed directly from the police to the volunteers. Jack, and his employees, were on duty for well over a decade, seven days a week.
In 1984-85 three major changes occurred: the 9-1-1 service finally covered the entire region, the town took over the job of dispatching, and pagers were purchased for the volunteers. Although 9-1-1 had been introduced in the United States in 1968, it was not until well into the 1980’s that it became standard across the country. The introduction of 9-1-1 meant that a person no longer had to call the fire, ambulance, or police services directly; an immense improvement in the accessibility of the emergency services and, consequently, their response time. By 1984, the needs of the town had grown large enough that handling them in the hardware store was no longer viable; and so dispatching was shifted to the town hall. Finally, until 1985, all dispatches had to go by telephone. This meant that volunteers on duty were essentially tied to their phones, which was increasingly difficult. The purchase of a pager system in 1985 was an important one, for it meant that while the volunteers on call had to be within the region, they no longer had to be near their telephone. Today, with the proliferation of mobile phones this no longer seems to be so ground-breaking, but it was valuable for the maintenance of the association.
Today, New Hartford’s ambulance continues to serve the towns of New Hartford, Barkhamsted, and the surrounding region. It remains a predominantly volunteer force. For more information see: http://www.nhvaamb.org

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