Photo (credit Jay Carollo): A 1970 photo of the International Harvester ambulance purchased by the Marshalltown Area Community Hospital ambulance service that was managed by Darwin Prochaska (shown at the rear of the vehicle).
It’s been nearly 50 years since the ambulance service at UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown started caring for the community and its emergencies.
That commitment to care is about the only thing that hasn’t changed.
In October 2019, the award-winning ambulance service in Marshalltown turns 50 years old. It has been a road marked with many changes in ownership, manpower, technology and health care. Yet, a half-century later, the service has never been stronger.
“So much has changed,” says Kim Younge, a paramedic at UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown who has been with the team for 38 years. “From how we perform our jobs to all the new equipment and technology. There’s no doubt the tools of the trade and the improvements have made us more successful, but there’s a lot more to remember.”
When the service began in 1969, each of the three funeral homes in town operated their own ambulances, which were actually funeral vehicles that resembled hearses.
“In the old days, you just had to have taken a Red Cross first-aid course,” says John Bell, who owned Estel Perrin Funeral Home. “That’s it, and you were qualified. At that point, we didn’t have to do a whole lot – just put them on the cot and get them to the hospital.”
Unlike recent years, the first ambulance employees struggled to stay busy. They were committed to doing whatever they could to help the hospital, including working in the ER at night and were often considered orderlies. They might register patients, do surgical preps, get patient weights, cart patients around and anything else they were asked to do.
By the time Younge started in 1981, the service was located at Marshalltown Area Community Hospital, and ownership was shared by the county and hospital. It had three ambulances, all made by International Harvester. Whenever a call went out, the voice on the overhead speaker would page vehicles with a message like, “Mr. Harvester, call 1, 2 or 1 stat or 2 stat or 3, 3 stat.”
“Many people over the years wondered who Mr. Harvester was,” says Younge with a smile. “They thought he was a pretty important and busy man.”
In 1985, the hospital became Marshalltown Medical and Surgical Center and the ambulance service was owned entirely by the hospital. In 2015, Central Iowa Healthcare took over the hospital and ambulance service, before UnityPoint Health assumed ownership in 2017.
In June 2017, along with other Marshall County first responders, UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown’s service received the Mission Lifeline Achievement Award for pre-hospital care. Then, in November 2018, it was named the Career EMS Service of the Year by the Iowa Emergency Medical Services Association.
These days, the service has five ambulances, and there’s a lot required of paramedics and EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), as the jobs have required increased knowledge, skill level and experience.
“It’s changed considerably,” says Jay Carollo, who drove one of the first ambulances. “I had a brain aneurism 10 years ago and rode in an ambulance for a few blocks. It’s so big and roomy now, it’s not like it was at the funeral home.
“And the thing I noticed just recently was, when they came to get me, they took my temperature and blood pressure, gave me oxygen, put an IV in me, and they were in communication with the doctor in the emergency department. It was just so much more professional. It’s become a profession.”
“I’ve got tons of memories,” Younge says, “but I have to say there have been a few patients that I’ve cared for that, for whatever reason, touched me to my core. I can’t even remember their names, but the circumstances are still clear.”
“The EMS industry has evolved over the years, and our service has, as well,” says Nick Heintz, Manager of EMS at UnityPoint Health – Marshalltown. “Staff is trained in emergencies from difficulty breathing to chest pain to baby deliveries. Crews utilize the latest technology and equipment to provide the best possible care in a dynamic world.”