Delaware County Emergency Medical Services celebrated its 40th anniversary with the county commissioners on Thursday, April 19, recalling its humble origins and growth into a department with a $9.8-million annual budget.

Delaware County Emergency Medical Services celebrated its 40th anniversary with the county commissioners on Thursday, April 19, recalling its humble origins and growth into a department with a $9.8-million annual budget.

The theme of the celebration could have been, "You've come a long way, baby."

When emergency medical services were first provided to the county on April 18, 1972, the EMS medical director was Judith Held. She spoke to the commissioners on Thursday.

"Our first vehicle was an International and it cost $13,000," she said. "I'm pretty sure you spend more on a vehicle nowadays."

EMS Chief Rob Farmer concurred: "Our newest vehicle cost us $193,000," he said.

Prior to 1972, emergency victims were carted from the scene in a funeral home hearse, recalled Don Fisher, who served as county commissioner from 1968 through 1974 and was instrumental in the growth of Delaware County EMS.

"You'd be lucky to get a blanket and a bag to throw up in," Fisher said of the pre-EMS days and transport by wagon. "They called it 'load and haul,' because that's really the only services the funeral homes were able to provide."

Farmer said the move toward modern emergency medical services was launched by a study released by the National Institute of Medicine in 1966 titled, "Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society."

"That report let people know that you were safer on the battlefields in Vietnam than on U.S. highways if you were in an accident," Farmer said.

Commissioners Dennis Stapleton and Ken O'Brien both praised the foresight of predecessors such as Fisher for establishing and funding (through the general fund) the Delaware County EMS.

"Today we are honoring the pioneers of this quality service," Stapleton said, "people who had the vision and the dedication to put this dynamic (EMS) model together."

From a single EMS station, two vehicles and 22 employees, Delaware County EMS has grown to 11 stations throughout the county, an administrative building, 15 vehicles and 140 employees.

The stations have been established on a geographic model (rather than a model based on population) in order to lower response times in every corner of the 459 square miles of the county.

"I am pleased at the coverage offered by Delaware County EMS," O'Brien said. "With 10 locations, we truly do serve the entire county. If a farmer is hurt in Radnor, we are there within minutes; if a driver wrecks his car in Orange Township at the same time, we are there within minutes.

"We employ highly qualified professionals who are trained to offer the same great care throughout Delaware County."

Delaware County EMS responds to more than 6,000 emergency calls every year, according to information from the service.

Farmer, who became chief in 2004, said the advancements in EMS training and technology have been astounding over the past 40 years.

"It's not like Johnny and Roy in that old show 'Emergency!' having to call Rampart Hospital and tell them what they were dealing with," Farmer said. "We go on runs with something like 45 different drugs we can administer. We can hook a heart attack patient up to an EKG and interpret the results. We walk straight through the ER without stopping and when we get to the cardiac unit, the doctor is already looking at the patient's EKG."

All of which has led to markedly better outcomes: "You used to have what you'd call a 'cardiac cripple.' They'd be in rehab maybe for the rest of their lives," Farmer said. "Now heart attack patients are walking out of hospitals in two or three days and going back to their daily routines."

Said Stapleton: "You guys don't have a career like I have a career as a county commissioner. I come to work. You guys have a passion."