Blue Line

first vancouver police ambulance

October 12, 2016  By Corrie Sloot

vancouver police ambulance.jpeg

Photo cut (ambulance): A Vancouver police ambulance, circa 1914-15. This is probably the city’s second ambulance, purchased in the U.S. in 1910. Major Matthews collection, Vancouver Archives A-30-72.

Newpaper page: Oct. 6, 1909. Vancouver World story on pedestrian killed by Vancouver’s new “auto ambulance” on its inaugural test drive in the city.

News story: The Province story


World story on ambulance arrival: Oct. 5, 1909. Vancouver World story on the “auto ambulance” when it arrived from Belfast.

by John Mackie

On Oct. 6, 1909, Charles Cocking took Vancouver’s new “auto ambulance” out for its first test drive, and promptly killed a pedestrian.

“Out for a trial spin at noon, Vancouver’s new city police ambulance ran over and almost instantly killed Mr. C.F. Keiss, a wealthy citizen of Austin, Texas,” the Vancouver Province reported.

“Keiss was crossing Pender Street at the Granville corner when the heavy automobile, having dodged between two street cars which were proceeding in opposite directions, struck him in the back.”

The Vancouver World’s description of the accident was pretty grisly.

“The auto-ambulance knocked him down, and a wheel passing over his skull injured him so severely that he died in a few minutes,” said the World. “The victim was dragged by the car 50 or a hundred yards along Pender Street before the car could be stopped, the track being marked by pools of blood.

“Hundreds of men and women saw the dreadful affair, and turned pale and sick as the man was rolled along under the wheels and done to death, the spouting blood adding to the ghastliness of the accident.”

Keiss died at the scene, and the ambulance was given its first job – taking his body to Center & Hanna undertakers.

The World reported that Keiss was from Bucyrus, Ohio, not Austin, and that his most recent address was in Seattle. He was evidently passing through Vancouver on a hunting trip to Powell Lake.

The ambulance had just arrived in Vancouver from Belfast, Ireland, where it had been built. The manufacturer’s name isn’t listed in either paper, but the vehicle was brought to town by Frank Darling & Co., a machinery dealer at 929 West Pender. Cocking worked for Darling & Co.

“He is an experienced driver,” the Province reported. “It appeared to the spectators that to a certain extent he was being caught in the position of being caught in between the two cars on Granville Street, and in order to avoid accident to the machine he pushed forward quickly over the crossing to the eastward. The auto is a very heavy affair, and struck the man fairly in the back.”

Only a day before the World had rhapsodized about how the $5,200 ambulance was “a thing of beauty.”

“It is driven by a six-cylinder 30-horsepower engine, placed directly under the driver’s seat, so as to minimize the vibration,” the World noted.

“The body is constructed of the finest English ash, with Bagwood panels, and highly varnished. The interior contains two stretchers, the upper one being on a folded rabbited frame. The lower stretcher is fitted with 14-inch rubber-tired wheels and elliptical springs and axle, enabling the bed to be wheeled over any floor without vibration.”

The ambulance may have been handsome, but Vancouver’s chief of police Rufus G. Chamberlain wasn’t that impressed. At a city hall meeting on Dec. 17, 1909, the World reported Chamberlain “absolutely refused to have foisted on his department such an automobile as the one purchased from F. Darling & Co. to be used as an auto ambulance.”

Further test drives (which don’t appear to have resulted in more fatalities) had found the ambulance had “defects” that had to be remedied before it could be put into use.

“Two of the gears ran very noisily and unevenly, where the specifications called for a machine that should be as noiseless as possible, and caused a very noticeable vibration,” said the World.

“The springs of the machine were found to be inadequate to distribute the jolts properly, with the result that it jolted about at the slightest obstruction on the street, seriously impairing its usefulness as an ambulance wagon.”

Some members of the city’s police and fire committee “were of the opinion that the machine should not be accepted.” The ambulance was soon returned to the manufacturer, without ever actually going into action.

In July 1910, the city replaced the dud ambulance with an American auto ambulance similar to vehicles in use in Seattle and Portland.

(Vancouver Sun)

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