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July 15, 2017 5:56 pm  #1

Ideas for Improving Longevity of the PCS

Fellow members,

I have only been involved in the PCS for the last 3 years, when we purchased our first professional car in May 2014. I did not know at that time how much I would enjoy these vehicles and the history they were a part of. I have been an EMT/paramedic for only 13 years now – but unlike many members I have never worked in a professional car ambulance. I never even saw one personally (to my recollection) before I first saw in 2007 a 1970 C/B-Oldsmobile “Cotington 48” ambulance in a small urban “junkyard” that was on my way to work at the ambulance station. I would never have guessed at that time that seven years later I’d purchase that very ambulance! It’s been a wild ride, and I’ve learned a lot. If I knew now what I knew then – I wouldn’t have purchased that rotted Cotington!

In this time, I have observed the PCS, its members, and its functions. I have had a great experience overall, and amazed at the breadth of knowledge and scope of generosity of its members. So many members have direct or family experience with these vehicles while they were in service, with the stories in spades! It is met with sadness that I think of the folks I have met on this adventure who are no longer with us, like Jack Pinner. The last professional car ambulance came off the assembly line in 1979, thirty-eight years ago! Antique hearses can still be used for its original purpose – and valued by many for its dignity. While many car chassis ambulances lasted in backup and transfer status for many years, it is likely none are in more than “parade” roles in agencies that still own them. The “To The Rescue” museum in Virginia closed in 2006. While there were efforts at a “National EMS Museum” following the closure, the effort seems to be no closer to reality than 11 years ago. Unlike the fire service – traditions are few in the fragmented “EMS” profession. Rather than celebrate those that came before us, “EMS” as a profession often looks back on its history with disdain in an attempt to differentiate itself from what is often perceived as the inferior care of the past. We are faced with an aging membership, a diverse and often competing set of interests in the ambulance/rescue industry, and a younger generation (including myself) who can generally only connect professional car ambulances with a 1980s movie. Many ambulance personnel do not keep a long-standing career in the field. It has been on my mind now for some time – how can the PCS preserve the ambulance heritage that it has preserved for so long? What will happen in 30 years to the cars in the collections of today’s members? How can we save the collective knowledge hard won with years of experience? How can we interest the newest generations of ambulance crews to care for the legacy so many in this organization have cared for since they ran their last call?

I believe we are at a crossroads, and the PCS has an opportunity to serve in a way few other historical societies can. I believe the time to concern ourselves with what will happen to the cars and their history is now – and in many cases we have little time to waste. I propose several efforts that may be of benefit to the Society now and more importantly its future:

1.    Attempt formal PCS affiliation with the Society for the Preservation and Appreciation of Antique Motor Fire Apparatus of America and the Fire Museum Network. This would be similar to how PCS has partnered with the National Museum of Funeral History. There are several fire museums with professional cars or related history, and multiple SPAAMFAA members with professional cars who apparently are not well-known as PCS members. These organizations have had had great success with similar efforts to our own in the fire service. Young firemen who weren’t born when antique apparatus were in service take care of them today. I believe there is much that we can learn from their work, and partnership increases our exposure with the fire service – a primary stakeholder of ambulance services today and in the past.

2.    PCS Partnership with existing Fire, Military, and Automobile Museums that currently house professional cars: A variety of existing, well-established museums display professional cars to the public. The PCS should reach out to these entities, offer our technical assistance, and request that mention of the PCS be integrated into the display somehow. Perhaps for smaller museums in particular, we can develop some sort of display to provide. The PCS website would include a geographic map and listing of museums that include professional cars, with photos/description provided. At this time, in order to encounter a professional car someone must happen upon it by chance, attend some form of professional car event, or visit a car owner’s personal residence. Museum partnership would not only increase the Society’s prestige as a historical society and exposure of professional cars as a whole to the public, it would likely improve the care of these vehicles and the accuracy of provided displays. Even if membership dwindles significantly as the population who worked on these vehicles ages - we will have something out there carrying the banner of the professional car and its history.

3.    Professional Management: The Society is currently run by dedicated volunteers, to include the “hum drum” of administrative tasks and chores. Membership is aging, and with fewer and fewer persons with vested personal interest and life experience with these vehicles – it will be difficult over time to maintain the matters of a formal organization as they currently exist. Other professional organizations I have been involved in have utilized management groups that execute many of these functions (answering phones, collecting payments, selling items, managing IT support, elections, accounting, mailings/publishing) on behalf of the society so that members and leaders have consistent, reliable service. A secondary benefit is an improvement in trust/transparency (both real and perceived) when an independent third party’s employees are responsible for the execution of these functions. While this would initially increase costs over all-volunteer operation, I personally believe many of the conflicts I have witnessed or heard of in the past could be avoided by this mechanism. Let us worry about professional cars, not the nitty gritty of organizational work. There are multiple companies that provide a broad scope of these services that would meet the PCS’s needs. Costs are dependent on scope of services and number of members. I am personally involved with the Special Operations Medical Association, which uses Kellen Company - and can share the experiences there.

The above are my personal recommendations, based upon my experience and respectfully submitted. I am happy to assist with the execution of any of these if the group is interested. I am hoping to be at the membership meeting next week, presuming my ER shifts work out to allow me there early enough. I look forward to comments. E-mail or message me here or on Facebook if you would like to do so.


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