- Category: History
The need for an ambulance service in the town of Gates heightened in the late 1950s and early '60s during the town's transition from a rural, agricultural area into a suburban community. Preceding the founding of the Gates Volunteer Ambulance Service (GVAS) on February 23, 1964, ambulance transportation in Gates was provided by hospitals (the St. Mary's Hospital ambulance, for example) or from commercial ambulance firms. The response time and the expense were the often-voiced reasons for establishing an ambulance service for the town. During the 1940s and '50s, the Gates-Chili Fire Department maintained a rescue car with oxygen, first aid supplies, and a resuscitator, but the department had neither the necessary funds nor personnel to operate fire-fighting equipment and an ambulance. The first public word of the proposed town ambulance service came September 12, 1963, when a group of Gates physicians endorsed the proposal of Dr. J. Walter Knapp. Dr. Erwin J. Boerschlein, Dr. Jack L. Connelly, Dr. James W Carlin, and Dr. John E Montione agreed "that the town of Gates represents an area of population concentration which was in need of ambulance service for its residents." The Gates Chili News reported that the physicians hailed the proposal as a step in the direction of better health and safety for town residents. Samuel J. Smith, the newspaper's founder wrote:
"Dr. Knapp's plan calls for the purchase of the ambulance by the town, or by public subscription. The cost and maintenance of upkeep would have to be borne by the town. The ambulance would be manned by trained personnel on a voluntary basis and centrally located so that it could be minutes away from any emergency in the town. The physicians pointed out that the town has many young families with limited budgets, with a very definite need for such a measure. As an example, in maternity cases or in child accident cases, in many instances the family automobile is unavailable since it is at work with the husband. Also, in the situation of older residents who are bedridden by diseases and infirmities of old age, the need exists to transport these people to hospitals for temporary treatment, or for limited hospital stay. All of this should be provided at no cost to the Gates resident, Dr. Knapp stated. DL Knapp further stated that since he initially announced the plan, he has received tremendous response from a good number of Gates residents. More over; many volunteers have come forward wishing to donate their services to operate the ambulance. This is the sort of thing that can work out on a voluntary basis provided the people who operate the ambulance are properly trained. The physicians indicated that they would be willing to donate their time and effort to train these individuals in proper first aid procedures."
Local residents and town officials quickly and favorably received Dr. Knapp’s proposal. "If all goes well, we hope to have a rig on the road by the first of the year (1964)," said Gates Supervisor Frank Kipers at a public meeting on October?, 1963. At that town meeting, Gates Police Chief William Stauber announced that he and several town residents had "started laying the groundwork 18 months ago" for formation of a volunteer ambulance service. "Several sites have been offered free of charge for the headquarters structure and we are now in the process of determining which would be the best location," said Stauber, quoted in the October 8,1963 edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Stauber presented a rendering of the proposed ambulance base, a one-story structure for which "materials and labor will be donated by contractors living or doing work in the town." He said that the building would include an office, kitchen, radio room, sleeping quarters, and garage for the ambulance, and that a 12-person bipartisan board of directors and a volunteer crew of at least 70 would be established to operate the service "which will be on call 24 hours a day." On February 23, 1964, the citizens' committee chaired by Chief Stauber officially organized the Gates Volunteer Ambulance Service, Inc. at the first Board of Directors meeting held that: day. Board members were: William Stauber, president; John E Montione, M.D., vice president; Gerald Schifino, secretary; J. Raymond lytier, treasurer; Fred Blum, Esq.: Erwin J. Boerschlein, M.D.; Daniel Ehmann; and John Gould. John A. DeGroot was named director of operations, with Samuel Marchetti, deputy director. While the initial fund-raising program led by Robert Lechner of Hinchey Road was under way, the ambulance committee began a search for land for construction of the headquarters. Attorney Fred Blum located a parcel in the rear of 1140 Howard Road, north of Hinchey Road, south of Buffalo Road, near the geographic and population center of the town. The parcel was to have been a donation to the ambulance by the Dolomite Corporation, which owned the land and operated a quarry nearby. But at an ambulance meeting on May 19, 1964, a group of residents living on Howard Road expressed opposition to the ambulance headquarters proposed for their neighborhood. They presented a petition against the site and listed objections of noise, disturbance, and traffic. Because of the public controversy, the Dolomite Corporation withdrew its offer of the property and the board of directors continued its search. In the meantime, a subcommittee sought bids for purchase of an ambulance and on August 12, 1964, the board voted to buy the vehicle, a Cadillac, from the Superior Coach and Equipment Co., 1690 Manitou Road. Cost: $10,195. Delivery: first week of September. Location: 144 Gatewood Avenue, corner of Howard Road, just about a block north of the temporary base. With plans that Chief Stauber had announced two years earlier, and with most of the construction work donated, building progressed quickly and the new base of operations was ready for occupancy on June 18,1966. March 22i 1965; 5:20 a.m. The date and time are remembered in recognition ofGVAS's First maternity call. The midnight crew of David Georger and Robert Ruemelin were called to the home of Frances German on Laurel Avenue. With no time to take Mrs. German to the hospital, the medics delivered a baby girl to her in her home that morning. They made headlines the next day. "When it was all over, I suddenly felt: nine feet tall!" Ruemelin told the local newspaper. "At a time like that it's comforting to know that we have people who have the training for something like this," Mrs. German said. "Gates had reason to be proud of its ambulance service and those who operate it." With an increasing membership, service was expanded to include non- emergency transportation to and from local hospitals free of charge. Residents had only to notify the headquarters a day in advance and crew chiefs arranged for volunteers to take the transport call. By the end of 1965, though, GVAS still did not provide 24'hour-a-day service. Although there were no written rules to the contrary, all of the women who had joined to that point were dispatchers and all of the men were drivers and medics on the ambulance. Owing to the times, the men worked at their places of employment during the day and most women were at home with time available to staff the ambulance service. In 1966 a group of them proposed that women, too, could drive and medic and that they could fill daytime shifts to bring the operation into 24-hour service. The board of directors agreed and during 1966 and 1967 roster shifts slowly expanded until around- the-clock coverage was realized. Among the first group of women to drive and medic were Lina Marchetti, Lill Turner, Mary Eleanor Corbett, Sylvia Fegan, Allison Kelly, Elsie Glendenning, Eileen VanDerMallie, Ruthe Neu, and Lorna Butler. When the number of calls increased (paralleling the growth of the town in the late 1960s) the board of directors authorized the purchase of a second ambulance on May 14, 1968. Renovations were made to the base … the original garage became sleeping quarters for the crew, the old sleeping area became the director's office, and a garage was added to the north side of the building. With a membership roster of over 100, a second medic position was added to the regular on-duty crew, a measure that gave members more assistance at the scene and that provided more opportunities for volunteers to serve.