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Winnebago Ambulance marks 50 years of service

By Staff | Sep 13, 2020

The Winnebago Area Ambulance marks 50 years since beginning operations back in 1970. Rick Mauris, whose father Robert was one of the founding fathers of the ambulance service, is pictured above standing beside one of the current units.

The Winnebago Area Ambulance is marking their 50th anniversary this year.

Plans for a community celebration have been derailed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rick Mauris, who currently serves as a member of the ambulance crew, explains how the ambulance service in Winnebago began.

“In 1965 my grandfather had a severe heart attack and the community did not have an ambulance service,” Mauris explains. “After locating a stretcher, he was transported to the hospital in my father’s vehicle. At least 45 minutes had elapsed in getting him to a medical facility.”

The situation prompted Rick’s father Robert, who passed away in 2010, to work to ensure the Winnebago community would have an ambulance service.

Rick says his father told him several private services were started and failed due to high operational costs and the ever increasing Federals and State regulations.

It used to be common for funeral directors to be the major operators of ambulance services but many abandoned the ambulance business when their operating costs became prohibitive, according to an article written in the late 1960s by Charles Eisenhardt of the Ambulance Manufacturing Association.

Robert Mauris was eventually appointed to a task force committee to establish a municipal ambulance service, procure an ambulance and arrange for the required training courses.

“The first ambulance was ordered on March 18, 1970,” Rick says. “It was ordered from Winnebago Implement Company and was a 1970 Chevy half-ton Carryall. The purchase price was $8,975.”

The necessary equipment to outfit the new vehicle as an ambulance cost $551, according to Mauris.

Records also show the city received $4,500 in state aid. The townships surrounding the community also contributed money to pay for the ambulance.

The new ambulance arrived in Winnebago on July 30, 1970.

Robert Mauris reported at a meeting on April 8, 1971, that the crew was nearing their 100th run.

“Back then a person had to take a CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) and an advanced first aid course,” Rick Mauris comments.

Mauris also points out it was not just his father who helped get the ball rolling for a new ambulance.

“Howard Germain and G.G. Young were also on the committee appointed by the Winnebago City Council to purchase the ambulance,” Mauris shares. “The ambulance service would not have been possible without the support of the people and the area businesses who wanted to do something for their community.”

Mauris says he believes there are still four men alive who were on the original ambulance squad.

“Craig Germain, LeRoy Hahn, Larry Owen and Dick Hensel were there at the start of the Winnebago Ambulance,” he comments.

In the early days of the ambulance service the crew did not have very much equipment or money, Mauris says.

“The crew would ask local people to donate sheets,” Mauris notes. “Then the crew would rip them into long strips to make ties to secure the patients. There were also some carpenters in the crew who made splints out of wood and other aids the ambulance crew would use to help transport injured people.”

Winnebago also had a unique service in addition to their ambulance crew.

“We had a chaplaincy program beginning in 1980 which was designed to support the efforts of the Winnebago Police and Fire Departments along with the Ambulance Association,” Mauris explains. “The chaplains would carry pagers so they would know when there was an emergency.”

Robert Mauris also told his son about some of the toughest calls he had been on.

“The Delavan Elevator fire in the fall of 1976 was real tough for my father,” Mauris states. “He said he remembered Gordon Grupe, one of the men badly injured in the explosion, seeking him out later and thanking him for his efforts.”

The other tough situation Mauris said his father talked about involved a young girl who was hit by a car.

“No one knew how to deal with the grief back then,” Mauris explains. “Now there are counselors available to help people deal with these emotional issues.”

But Mauris says there are heart-warming stories too.

“When my father delivered his first baby in an ambulance the family told him they were going to name their newborn daughter Roberta,” Mauris says.

Today a new ambulance may cost as high as $200,000. The equipment the ambulance crew uses is not cheap.

Cari Jenkins, the current ambulance director, was recently at a City Council meeting with a proposal to purchase two new 12 lead EKG machines for the Winnebago Ambulance.

“The cost of the units is over $80,000 but donations and a grant will substantially lower our cost,” Jenkins said at the meeting.

The Winnebago Ambulance averages 225 calls a year.

Both Jenkins and Mauris have spoken about the need for more volunteers to serve on the ambulance crew.

“We are always looking for more people to volunteer to serve on the ambulance crew,” Mauris states. “It is a great way to serve the community.”