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From buggies to sirens - LICH emergency service

What makes a neighborhood a good place to live? Friendly people, good schools and — of course — a horse-drawn ambulance stabled right in the community.

Fifteen years after the founding of Long Island College Hospital (LICH) of Brooklyn, 339 Hicks Street, in 1858, its ambulance service had been established to bring patients to the hospital at the fastest possible gallop. Until late in the 19th century, people received their medical care at home.

With the invention of antiseptics and anesthesia, people began to turn to hospital professionals for care. That professionalism extended to the people bringing patients to the hospital, and the field of Emergency Medical Services was born. Within the first years of its operation, hundreds of patients a year were brought to LICH.

A “hurry” call to police headquarters was the term used then to denote a “911” call. Then, as now, response times were measured to ensure the public was being well served — but the time it took to hitch the horse was factored into the calculations.

The driver was with the horse at all times, but the paramedic, called the “ambulance surgeon,” was not. He was often required to leap onto the wagon as the horse began to race down the street.

In 1878-1879, Brooklyn established the City Ambulance System, which extended from Red Hook in the south to Greenpoint in the north. Long Island College Hospital served as the Central Depot.

By the 1920s, the horse had been replaced by a motorized vehicle. A new ambulance cost $4,200. Today, 135 years after the service was founded, the cost of a new, fully loaded ambulance can reach $150,000. Long Island College Hospital’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) operates six ambulances, employs 65 paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and responds to more than 10,000 emergency calls per year.

Modern ambulances are equipped with oxygen, advanced airway equipment, defibrillators, 12-lead EKG monitors, pulse oximeters and more. They also carry antidote kits for chemical/biological incidents.

On September 11, 2001, LICH lost an ambulance, crushed by the fall of the World Trade Center as its crew triaged patients a short distance away. Only seven months later, thanks to local, grass-roots fund raising, a new one was dedicated. “The community has always rallied around LICH’s EMS,” says Edward Caballero, CCEMTP, senior director of Emergency Services and Logistics. “The history of Brooklyn is the history of our emergency medical services.”

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