Since the mid 1940s, Virginia Beach has been receiving pre-hospital emergency patient care services (EMS) from independently operated volunteer fire departments and rescue squads. Princess Anne County saw the arrival of its first ambulance in 1947 and it was primarily utilized for providing emergency care at the scene of fires. However, its role quickly expanded as the local citizens began requesting the services of the ambulance to transport them to area hospitals. On February 12, 1952, Virginia Beach was designated as a city of the second class with a population of 42,277 and the first incorporated volunteer rescue squad was formed. This was the beginning of what is now the largest volunteer based rescue squad system among this nation’s 200 most populous cities.
Beginning in the 1960s, local physicians became aware of the importance of the services provided by these volunteer rescue squads and interested doctors began volunteering their time to advise the rescue squads in medical techniques and procedures. A centralized training program in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) strengthened the association between the physicians and the rescue squads.
This advancement trend continued and, in 1972, culminated with the formation of the nation’s first all-volunteer advanced life support (ALS) program. The Emergency Coronary Care Program not only enhanced the provision of patient care but also served as the catalyst that catapulted the rescue squads from an era of simple first aid provision to that of providing sophisticated medical procedures. Medical techniques previously performed only by physicians and few allied health professionals were successfully performed by specially trained volunteer rescue squad members known as cardiac technicians. Basic care providers were also enhanced as emergency medical technician (EMT) training courses were offered in support of these cardiac technicians. The rescue squads began to “practice medicine” within a system closely associated with physicians, nurses and other health care providers.
During this developmental period, the administrative mechanism that evolved was a central coordinating and training office. To maintain close relationships with the volunteer rescue squads, the physicians encouraged the formation of a Rescue Squad Captain Advisory Board in 1972. This organization continued to expand and, in 1974, began to receive its direction from the formally established Rescue Council, an outgrowth of the original Rescue Squad Captain Advisory Board. In 1975, support was gained from City government to perpetuate the established central administrative and coordinating office.
An ordinance was passed by City Council on April 13, 1981 to protect the interest of the medical directors and, at the same time, ensure the continuance of the all-volunteer rescue concept that the City had supported over the years as a cost effective service. Three years later the staff, medical directors and Rescue Council recommended to the City Manager the establishment of a revised ordinance that would centralize management of rescue services under a unified organization. Hence, in 1984, an independent Division of Emergency Medical Services was created. This Division combined a single medical director and all the volunteer rescue squad members within one organization headed by a director.
By 1990, the Division had grown in numbers, equipment and visibility, so, in July of that year, the Division was elevated to the status of Department by the City Council and specialty rescue teams were created (Search and Rescue, Bike and others) and the responsibility of the lifeguard services contract oversight was assumed.
In early 2000, in partnership with the Fire Department, the Emergency Response System (ERS) was formed. This initiative was aimed at fully utilizing all of the combined resources of advanced life support providers in both Departments to provide increased services. In 2004, to further strengthen response capabilities in the face of the steady rise in the demand for services, 24 career paramedics and four brigade chiefs were added to augment the volunteer rescue squads’ efforts. Under the oversight of EMS, over 125 AEDs were deployed on police cars across the City. Meanwhile, significant investments were made in ongoing volunteer member recruitment and retention programs.
The ERS enhancements continued in 2005 with the addition of eight more career paramedics. A Monday-Friday daytime power shift schedule was implemented to place additional personnel on duty during the busiest time of the week. Citywide ambulance response times fell 19.5% below 2003 levels. This was accomplished while absorbing a 6.8% increase in call demands. The volunteer rescue squad system remained strong with nearly 90% of all ambulance crews being comprised of volunteers.
In 2006 EMS witnessed the completion of the strategic planning process. In addition, a major leap in recruitment occurred when the Department partnered with the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad Foundation on a massive campaign to secure new volunteer members for the entire service. That year also launched another advancement in coronary care. Twelve lead technology was introduced to the field to detect ST elevated myocardial infarction (STEMI) ECGs. The Sentara Princess Anne (SPA) free standing emergency department opened on the grounds of the future SPA Hospital in the PA Commons section of the City.
The Partnership with the VBRS Foundation continued into 2007 and the addition of the Rescue Council Recruitment Trailer complemented these efforts. The first Career EMS Captains were appointed and the First Landing Fire/EMS Station opened on shore Drive at Great Neck Road. In 2008, EMS Explorer Post #800 was formed through the support and guidance of Rescue Council. This was the first time in over thirty (30) years that a junior group affiliated with the Rescue service to learn more about the service and life saving skills. It also presents the opportunity to them to join the seniors when they reach age 18. The new Station 8 opened on Bayne Drive and EMS Headquarters moved from Arctic Avenue where it had been for 25 years, to a more central location in the Pinehurst Centre off Lynnhaven Parkway.
The year 2009 after countless months of planning, designing and training, the Police/EMS Medevac Helicopter project was launched. The foundation for the new cooling protocol, the acquisition of new monitors and for the new Electronic Medical Reporting System, was laid. All of these project are scheduled for launch in 2010.