The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Department was established as the first “third service” Public Safety Department in the state of Massachusetts. As years passed more cities and towns followed suit. At that time the City was using a private company to provide ambulance service for the City of New Bedford. The private company was having internal problems and decided that they could no longer provide ambulance service for the money they were receiving. When prompted for additional funds, the City assessed the situation and decided it was possible to provide similar service for a lesser amount. Patients would be billed by the city directly for any outstanding balances their insurance did not cover.

The City service started with two ambulances on a twenty-four-hour a day, seven day a week schedule. In July 1976, a third ambulance was added and was available five days a week between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. In February of 1981, when Proposition 2 1/2 was adopted, the Emergency Medical Service Department was dealt a severe blow, with the reduction of its work force. The result of lost income caused the third ambulance to be removed from service.

In September of 1981, the administration decided to reinstate the third ambulance. At which time, the EMS department put the third vehicle back into active service as a daytime ambulance between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. The reinstatement of this ambulance was due largely to the recognized need to respond more quickly to persons requiring immediate medical attention. When two ambulances were committed to patients, patients had to wait longer periods of time for an out-of-town ambulance to arrive at the scene.

Currently, EMS is averaging 30 ambulance calls per day, with three ambulances responding under the command of a Field Supervisor. Three ambulances serve as reserve units, this allows for regular maintenance and service to be done without interruption in delivery of patient care and for additional units to be pressed into service for large-scale events or unusual incidents.

In 1981, the Emergency Medical Service Department, under the Direction of Charles Rainville, put together a Mass Casualty Support Unit at a cost of approximately $10, 000. The unit was made from a trailer that had been used as part of a “Play-Mobile” program for the City’s Park Department, with most of the funds coming from Community Development. At the time it was estimated by EMS that a unit like this, if commercially built, would have sold for approximately $65,000. With the talent and initiative of the Department, the cost was kept much lower. The need for this type of unit was justified at the time, by the following reasons:

  1. The growth of construction of high-rise housing
  2. The increased activity at the New Bedford Airport
  3. The interstate highway system with a high volume of civilian and industrial traffic.
  4. The increase of tourism.
  5. At the time no agencies in the city or surrounding communities had a contingency plan that dealt with multi trauma and mass casualty incidents. (Lessons since learned since Sept. 11)

This project proved so innovative, that requests for presentations and assistance in the development of such units, came from as far away as Canada.

In 1983 the level of Service of New Bedford EMS was upgraded from the Basic Level to the Intermediate level. This allowed EMT’s to perform advanced life saving techniques such as IV infusion, esophageal obturator devices and the use of medical anti-shock trousers. Although the City paid for the cost of the education for each employee, they attended the course on their own time.

In 1984, the City purchased a four-wheel drive ambulance to enhance service. This proved to be the first vehicle of its type to be inspected by the State Office of Ambulance Regulations. After the inspection, New Bedford EMS received numerous calls and inquiries from other EMS agencies in the New England area regarding this vehicle.

In February 1990, EMS trained its EMT’s in the use of Automatic Cardiac Defibrillation. Again, employees received the training at no cost to the City and a campaign was started to purchase three automatic defibrillators with donations from service organizations in the New Bedford Area.

Recognizing the importance of immediate recognition and bystander involvement became paramount in 2000 and NBEMS began staunch campaign, under the supervision of Capt. James Trout, then the Training Officer. The result was placement of Semi-automatic defibrillators in public buildings and schools, as well as an aggressive approach to teaching CPR that resulted in the City of New Bedford having the highest number of public access defibrillators available in the SouthCoast region. This program continues to grow and is under constant scrutiny to find new and improved equipment to allow it to remain current. As part of this commitment to community education, we provide support services for the New Bedford High School Emergency Medical Technology program, a course that allows High School students to take a basic EMT course and prepare for taking the State Basic EMT exam. We are also a Precepting site for Paramedic Interns who need to fulfill the requirements of their Paramedic Training Program.

In May 2003, with the closing of the Paramedic services provided by St. Luke’s Hospital, NBEMS upgraded to the Paramedic level. State of the art ZOLL M series monitors, with ETCO2 and twelve lead capability were chosen by the department to allow our Paramedics to perform their jobs with the finest equipment available. By being an innovator in it field, NBEMS, has shown the way in putting the newest, and sometimes-unknown devices into practice months or years ahead of others. Trying to remain a leader in the field of EMS, while providing the highest level of patient care has resulted in NBEMS seeking out ways to stay on top. Recently we have become part of the Department of Public health’s Ambulance Task Force (ATF 3-D) in the effort the support other EMS agencies in times of catastrophic disaster. In 2006 we became a “host site” for HSS International, an organization that deals with Law enforcement and EMS agencies in the training of Tactical Teams worldwide. NBEMS also houses and maintains an updated version of its own Mass Casualty Support Unit provided by the Southeastern Mass EMS Council Region 5.  This innovation continues with the ZOLL AutoPulse System soon to be deployed on all of NBEMS’ front line ambulances. This device, although new, has been shown in studies to make a considerable difference in patient outcome in the presence of Cardiac Arrest.

New Bedford EMS remains committed to “making the difference” for our residents, visitors, guests and co-workers well into the future.