Dying in Style: Chicago’s Cadillac Fire Ambulances

Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn was opposed to switching from Cadillac ambulances to the newer boxy, modular EMT design apparently on the theory that “a Chicagoan would rather die in style than be saved in the back of a panel truck.” He thought people wanted to go out in style! 

Actually, Cadillac never made an ambulance, but rather suppling three major coach builders S&S,  Miller Meteor and Superior . The first Cadillac purchased by the Chicago fire Department was a modified 1940 limousine model which went into the service on January 25, 1943, assigned as an upgrade to Ambulance 1. Then between 1953 and 1973 most Cadillac ambulances were conversions from Miller Meteor of Ohio on incomplete Cadillac chassis from 1961.

Since 1928 Chicago fire Department has purchased over 178 ambulance vehicles, some 70 of those were Cadillacs. There were also three 1942 Packard’s converted by Henney in Freeport Illinois, ten 1946 Mercury’s and nine Pontiacs purchased 1970. There was just one 1941 Dodge purchased for Civil Defense between 1943 in 1947.. In 1973 the EMS systems act was written establishing federal guidelines for the newer design modular ambulances,  the department purchased over 70 of these  on Ford and Chevrolet chassis still in use today.

But the story of Chicago ambulances begins in 1889 with its first city ambulance, a horse driven police ambulance #1 quartered at the Armory police station. In the basement station where stalls for nine horses two teams assigned to the ambulance and two teams for the “blue wagon” a ninth horse was called a fast trotter for the commanding officer of the precinct captain Koch.

One ambulance team was always kept constantly in harness ready for “instant service”. The crew two police officers and a driver would wait for the electric gong. One horse team worked the day shift 7 AM to 6 PM the other team worked the night shift 6 PM to 7 AM.

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