By Bob Iggulden
The Lancaster Town Police Ambulance Service was the first volunteer ambulance service in Western New York.
The driving forces behind the squad’s founding would come from diverse professional backgrounds. Two doctors, Albert Addessa and Albin Kwak, would join Police Chief Earl Swietzer, Police Captain Victor Ott and Assemblyman Julius Volker to lead the effort.
It was the first ambulance service to be operated by a police department in the state.
Gould Coupler of Depew, forerunner of Dresser Industries, donated a used, late 1940s-model Mercury as the squad’s first ambulance.
The membership consisted of the 10 town police officers along with 14 auxiliary police. The ambulance volunteers answered an average of 300 requests for emergency first aid annually.
At that time, there was no real alarm system.
“Most of the calls were in the evening so we hung around the ambulance garage well into the evenings just to be ready,” said founding member Paul Welker who remains active today.
A request for an ambulance would come through the police department. The police officer would park their police car and drive the ambulance. If more personnel was needed, phone calls were made to individual homes until a crew was assembled.
The original headquarters of the ambulance squad was at 21 Central Avenue at Clark Street. The ambulances would park outside during the nice weather, and would relocate to Sterm Street when the weather turned cold. Over the years, several changes were made to the Clark Street garage as more ambulances were added.
A Ford rescue truck, Cadillac ambulance and Pontiac ambulance were all added before 1970.
The 1970s brought some major changes to the ambulance squad. Women joined for the first time in 1973. In 1975, the organization’s name changed with incorporation, officially becoming the Lancaster Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
“We went to a lot of different hospitals in those early years,” said Welker. “There was Doctor’s Hospital in Tonawanda, Lafayette General, Columbus Emergency, St. Francis and Meyer Memorial.”
The first president was Bob Urban, and the first director of operations (the equivalent of a fire department chief) was Jack Bromwich. Agnis “Sam” Donner would be the first woman to serve as director of operations.
Since its inception, the LVAC has served the Town and Village of Lancaster, as well as the Village of Depew.
American Red Cross first aid training gave way to a new Emergency Medical Technician program in the early 1970s. LVAC members became part of this new program. In the mid-1980s, the squad upgraded its service as some members moved up to a higher level — the EMT-Intermediate. LVAC upgraded again in 1992 when it became paramedic-level.
On Aug. 10, 1996, LVAC opened its spacious new headquarters on Embry Place. The new 11,000-square-foot facility included offices, bunk rooms, shower/locker rooms, a physical-fitness room, a conference room, a lounge area and a garage capable of housing the corps’ three ambulances and emergency-response vehicle.
By the following year, LVAC was serving 2,300 people and operating four fully-equipped advance life support ambulances and a four-wheel-drive emergency response vehicle.
Today, LVAC responds to nearly 4,000 requests for help. We have a crew of volunteers second to none, comprised of EMTs, advanced EMTs and paramedics. Our members hail from all over Western New York. We have six paramedic-level ambulances.
This recruitment video aired on TV in the late 1990s: