It has been 50 years since government assisted ambulance services replaced those handled by local funeral homes, which had been responding to calls.

In February 1969, new standards were passed to pay on-staff ambulance workers minimum wage, as well as additional standards for ambulance equipment needed.

The changes meant funeral homes could no longer provide the service for communities across the nation.

“July 1 of 1969, there was a white paper from the Department of Transportation based on Vietnam’s field care that was given,” said Washington Area Ambulance District Chief Terry Buddemeyer. “There were labor standards created and if they (funeral homes) were to continue they would have had to pay them (their staff) a certain amount of money. Funeral directors said they couldn’t continue to do it.”

At that time, Washington was supported by Nieburg-Vitt and Otto funeral homes for ambulance service.

City Services Begin

The city of Washington officially created the Washington Ambulance Service in 1969, which operated with a volunteer staff and a supplement of on-duty city staff, such as police officers and clerical staff, who were trained in emergency response.

This type of operation ran from 1969 to 1981. During this time, Buddemeyer said due to the need for daytime help, several area industries also allowed their employees to run calls from their workplace during daytime hours.

Two medically trained volunteers would pick up the ambulance from the ambulance base in the morning and return it at the end of their shift. They were responsible for responding to all requests for ambulance service as the first out response ambulance.

Buddemeyer started as a first aid trained volunteer in 1978, then became an EMT and went onto become a paramedic. Today, he serves as chief.

“I consider it my life’s work,” he said, noting the staff has grown from just a few staff members and volunteers to a 40-person crew.

Today, there are three in-house crews made up of four paramedics, an EMT and a shift supervisor. There also is a group of 21 part-time personnel made up of EMTs and paramedics.

When he first started, Buddemeyer said the funeral homes donated the ambulances they had been using.

“The state then started a grant program to get a fully-equipped van from Ford that had no power brakes and no power steering for $3,500,” he said. “It didn’t have a cardiac monitor, but those would come later when people got more training.”

The ambulances are much more advanced today, he added.

“Now we have cardiac monitors that we can run 12 EKGs on, we push a button and it sends the patient’s medical information to the hospital before we even get there,” Buddemeyer said. “We have the ability to transmit right out of the truck.”

District Formed

In 1980, the current ambulance service was created and officially named the Washington Area Ambulance District. It was established by a vote in August 1980 and went into effect in February 1981. The ambulance service became its own entity, under its own control, instead of being a part of the city of Washington.

The city supported the change and eliminated a phone tax upon passage of the ballot issue for an ambulance district, as promised prior to the election.

Office items, furniture and two fully equipped older ambulances were donated to the district.

“We cover 62 square miles now,” Buddemeyer said. “That’s the city and the surrounding area. The city would run the ambulance outside Washington too, kind of like how they did with the volunteer fire department.

“Recently, the fire department did a rural fire district which covered outside the city limits,” he said.

Buddemeyer said the name was chosen because it reflects that coverage provided is more than just the city of Washington.

“We didn’t want people from outside the city to say, ‘Why am I voting for Washington Ambulance District because you’re not including me?’ ” he said.

The number of calls has increased from the hundreds per year to thousands. According to Buddemeyer there were 3,706 calls received last year.

The founding board members of the Washington Area Ambulance District were the Rev. Arthur F. Ebeling, Kenneth W. Filla, Oliver F. Stoenner, Richard F. Schmidt, Robert L. Phillips and John G. Tobben.

Buddemeyer said those board members set the stage for the district development and contributed greatly to the success of the district over the years. Board members are volunteers.

Current members are Nick Obermark, Missy Manhart, Larry Frick, Rich Altemueller, Dennis Hellebusch and Tim Buddemeyer.

“We are proud to serve as emergency responders to the community,” Buddemeyer said. “While we are not a city of Washington department, we work closely with the other emergency service agencies, Franklin County Communications, Washington Communications, Washington Police and Washington Fire to provide comprehensive medical services and coordinated response and patient care to the Washington community.”

50 Years 

Buddemeyer said the district won’t be celebrating the 50th anniversary of ambulance services here because technically the Washington Area Ambulance District has only been around since 1981.

However, the ambulance district may do something for its 40th anniversary in 2021.

The Union Ambulance District marked the 50th anniversary with a celebration in September.

“I knew when they said it was the 50th anniversary, it was from when service switched from funeral homes,” Buddemeyer said. “I went to their event and it was a nice program.”