The Cheltenham Township Emergency Medical Service (EMS) started small. “We borrowed a Chevy Suburban from the police and placed magnetic signs that said ‘Emergency Medical Service’ over the word ‘Police’,” explains Ken Hellendall, EMS director. “This worked fine until the signs blew off.”
In 2017, the decidedly higher-tech EMS will celebrate its 35th anniversary. From its modest beginnings as a part-time adjunct to the Police Department, EMS has blossomed into the one of the busiest ambulance services in the county.
Established by the Board of Commissioners in 1982 to provide the community with an organization dedicated solely to medical emergencies, EMS held its first meeting in February 1983. Weekend operations began soon after. For the first few years, police officers continued to cover medical emergencies whenever EMS was off duty. During that first year, 29 EMS volunteers equipped with a first-aid kit, a shared police vehicle and a walkie-talkie that plugged into a car cigarette lighter handled 254 calls.
In contrast, EMS was dispatched to approximately 3,000 calls in 2016. Today an independent department of the Township, EMS has volunteer and career paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs), qualified to provide advanced life care. The service boasts three ambulances, a special service unit and a paramedic responder motorcycle filled with life-saving equipment and radios that can communicate with any ambulance, police vehicle or hospital in the county.
“We constantly update our equipment and expand our training to provide the best patient care possible,” says Hellendall. “To this end, we instituted a bicycle patrol several years ago — the first in the county — and we’ve created a medics on motorcycles program, only the second one in the state.”
The program gives EMS quick access to patients, despite traffic congestion or roadwork closings. The motorcycle carries all the necessary equipment to begin care until an ambulance arrives. Several paramedics have been trained to use the motorcycle.