Editor’s Note: Last year, member Bob Russell sent us three wonderful photographs of the ambulance that Hastings used before our first official ambulance arrived. Here is the story behind this unusual piece of machinery.
Until the mid Fifties people were hastily driven to the hospital by family or co-workers, or whenever someone was around to help and had a car available to assist an injured person. Thankfully because of WWII and the Korean War, many citizens were trained in basic first aid, but serious health issues and injuries demanded more specialized attention. No doubt the ambulance evolved from the void of properly addressing these immediate critical needs, and therefore became an invention of necessity. Hastings first ambulance was offered as a temporary loaner. Although the Village did not own it, we had full use of this vehicle until we got our permanent one. It was a new, modified Cadillac and arrived in Hastings during the summer of ‘54. Oddly, it was light powder blue in color, and was referred to as a “model” or prototype of the new red one that we eventually bought. There was no charge for the blue one.
This conversion must have been quite a “chop” job. The rear seat had to be removed as well as the trunk wall in order to make room for the stretcher, which sat on a rigid floor. The roof of course was modified, and then compartments or attachments were provided. This most likely was done at a shop that did this kind of specialty work for many towns. The Cadillac was chosen for conversion because of its size and the comfort of the suspension. It also had a powerful engine. In the Fifties when this first ambulance was made, De Feo Motors of Yonkers was the closest dealer. Perhaps they were the company that sent it out to be modified and equipped for rescue duty. Cadillac hearses were also being outfitted for casket transportation. So the Cadillac went from being a luxury car, to a converted station wagon for special uses. Maybe someone out there will remember the name of the company that supplied them.
I did have the opportunity to look inside the blue loaner one day when the rear door was open. I could see that it was modestly outfitted with a stretcher, oxygen tank and a first aid box. I was with my older brother Bill on the day when he took these photos of the blue car which was kept uncovered in the dirt lot which later became Boulanger Plaza.
The first ambulance was housed in the garage behind the Hook and Ladder building for nearly ten years, and was kept there, including the successive models, until Chief Aresta Aluisio encouraged the Village to obtain the land on the east side of the Chenard's Gulf Station (ca. 1978) in order to erect the present Ambulance Corps. Building located on Main Street.
When the shiny red ambulance arrived it was beautiful and well received. Everyone in town admired the fire engine color, gold leaf lettering that read “Ambulance” and “Hastings on Hudson”. It also had a bright chrome siren on the roof, with a red light similar to the police cars of the day. As a result of this important acquisition members of the fire department quickly formed an ambulance corps of volunteer drivers reporting to a Captain. I believe that our first official volunteer ambulance driver was "Patsy" Melella, nicknamed “Magoose”, and I think his back-up driver was from Uniontown nicknamed “Squatty” Gorman, who always wore sunglasses.
Patsy worked as a delivery man for Riolo’s Market and other stores. Timely deliveries were important, and therefore Patsy was a fast driver. Sometimes he’d hear three blasts on the Municipal Building horn and come rushing out of some public place in order to get the ambulance rolling. There was an old joke on the street that if you were shopping in town and the horn blew three times, it was a good idea to get into a store as quickly as possible, because Patsy would soon be racing by, sometimes jumping the curb onto the sidewalk in his eagerness to answer the call.
Everyone in Hastings owes a great debt to the dedicated members of the Hastings Volunteer Fire and Ambulance corps.
The Ambulance Corps posed with their red ambulance in front of the Hook & Ladder Company building on Main Street in 1958.