Baldwin Ambulance Service started much like many other services. They were first offered as a sideline business by funeral homes. Forty years ago the funeral director was the only person with a car long enough for a stretcher, and built to carry the load. As gruesome as it sounds today, it made perfect sense back then. Edwin and Ruth Skari started a furniture and funeral home business in 1924. This provided transportation to hospitals and physician offices for the citizens of Baldwin when they were not busy.
In 1966 the Baldwin Fire Department paid $1000 for a 1950's era Cadillac Ambulance from Francis Weishaar of River Falls. Members obtained first aid training and the new ambulance service was born. That memorable red Cadillac ambulance remained in service until 1969 when a new Cadillac-Superior ambulance was purchased for an astonishing $14,010. In 1973, another white Cadillac replaced the 1969 model. 1975 brought a new replacement and new standards. This new orange and white Cadillac was to be the last used in Baldwin. The Fire department/ambulance service members maintained their first aid education, but more changes were on the horizon. These new changes would affect the future of ambulance services in Baldwin forever.
In 1978, the Wisconsin Department of Health passed law stating that all ambulance attendants must be educated to the Emergency Medical Technician level. For many reasons, a few ambulance services could not meet the new standards and would have to cease all service with the New Year. Baldwin Rescue Squad, the fire department ambulance service, was one of them. Baldwin was without ambulance services for about three weeks in 1979.
A group of concerned citizens and firefighters stepped in and formed a new ambulance service. Mark Kongshaug was one such person. He only had his EMT license for a few weeks and remembers this period well. Roger Somsen was chosen to head the new service and dedicated many hours to its establishment. The State of Wisconsin granted a provisional license for Baldwin Ambulance Service to operate until all its new members could received their NREMT certification and subsequent licenses.
Many firefighters and citizens enrolled into an EMT course and were issued training permits, which allowed them to staff the ambulance. Reid Berger, Lonie Palmer, Joanne Matysik, and Mark Kongshaug (all fully licensed) were on call around the clock until the trainees were licensed EMTs.
There was not a 911 system at the time. People who needed the ambulance called a seven-digit telephone number that rang on the "fire phones" located in fire fighters' homes. A fire phone was installed in the Baldwin Hospital , which subsequently set off a few pagers to notify the new members of ambulance calls. The fire phones were later dismantled with the addition of the 911 system in 1979.
As things began to look up, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation decided to condemn all Cadillac ambulances on January 1, 1980. A rush order was placed for a new $25,000 truck-based ambulance. The order was successful and the new Chevrolet Type I modular ambulance was received on schedule and would serve as the only ambulance through the middle of 1983, when a used 1974 Dodge Type II ambulance was purchased. This truck was purchased from the Tomah Fire Department. As run volume increased, a second truck would soon come in handy. Later, a 1978 Dodge would replace the 1974 model. In 1984, it became well known that the current station would become impractical to house two ambulances and all of the fire trucks. In the latter part of 1984, Baldwin Ambulance Service moved to a new building (constructed from a block grant) located at 1080 Newton Street. It could house the two trucks and provide a sense of independence for the crew members.
In 1987, a new modular ambulance was purchased to replace the Dodge van ambulance, only to become the primary ambulance. The 1978 Chevrolet became the back-up ambulance until 1992 when it was sold to Deer Park Fire Department. In 1992, with replacement of the old Chevrolet came a new Ford E350 Type III Modular ambulance at a cost of $65,000. In 1999 came the decision for yet another new truck. Two weeks prior to the arrival of this new 1999 Road Rescue Supermedic ambulance, the 1987 ambulance was sold to the Village of Baldwin Water Department, where a face-lift has changed its color, but not its history. Finally we come to June of 2001, when we received our third truck identical to the 1999 model.
By the end of 1979, Baldwin Ambulance Service had nearly thirty EMTs. Many times six or seven EMTs would show up for an ambulance call since there was not a call schedule. Initiation of a call schedule assured coverage stopped "cattle call" responses. The call shift would consist of three EMT and run from Friday night until Monday morning, which would soon become an around the clock schedule of six hour increments.
In 1985, Jim Rens took the Chief's position which he held until 1992, when Mark Willink took charge. Mark Willink resigned in 1994 and Mark Kongshaug took over. In 1996, the Village Board restructured the ambulance service. Once again, Jim Rens took the lead. Jim Rens served through 2000 when he chose to retire. The Baldwin Village Board appointed Craig Nelson as department Chief. Chief Nelson is still in command today.
Over the years, education has grown along with licensure requirements. EMTs would soon undergo more schooling, allowing them to defibrillate, place advanced airways, and give some medications. Soon, we will be going even further. Baldwin Ambulance Service is one of the first EMS providers in Wisconsin to advance to the new Basic-IV Tech level, which replaces the EMT-Intermediate level. Today's education requirements can be up 160 hours of class to obtain the EMT-B licensure. Advanced licensure can take even more time making the volunteer EMT less willing today. Professionalism and commitment of today's EMTs make it more like a part time job than a hobby, like it was in 1979.
Today Baldwin Ambulance Service has three identical ambulances and 25 members. Annual run volume has increased to 850 per year, which is amazingly high considering that from 1966 to 1973 there were only 1065 total runs. As a 9-1-1 service we take transfers from nursing homes, interfacility transfers to the St. Paul/Minneapolis and Eau Claire areas, and serve all 9-1-1 calls.
Written by Mark Kongshaug 2006.
In January 2007, the Village of Baldwin and Village Woodville combined two ambulance services into Baldwin Area EMS. The service chiefs were thinking into the future and saw greater strength together rather than separate. The need for ALS coverage of the entire area, training requirements, and daily coverage of the area were all reasons to combine two good services into one strong service, plus a cost savings by eliminating some of the fixed costs that both services were paying for separately. By adding Woodville's crew and equipment to the Baldwin Area EMS Department, we increase our staff to approximately 45 EMT's of various levels, and four ambulances and two quick response vehicles to serve the citizens fastest at a higher level of care.
In March of 2008 the Village of Baldwin approved a new operational plan so the service could move to the Paramedic level. This new level will assure continued compliance with National Scope and provide the highest level of care for the citizens we serve. The operational start date in fall of 2009.
Jan. 1, 2013 Baldwin Area EMS upgraded to the Critical Care Transport Paramedic level. Most of our Paramedic staff donated hundreds of hours to accomplish this task and provide the highest level of care availble in the State of Wisconsin to patients being transported.