1963 Cadillac Miller-Meteor

 1963 Cadillac Miller-Meteor

EMS is the cornerstone of my life and one that I am very grateful for. It is not a very old profession. Until 1973, there were no training standards and, in a lot of cases, no equipment. Since the biggest requirement needed to provide Ambulance service at $5 per response was a vehicle with a bed and an available crew, the service became a staple of the funeral industry. A Hearse could easily be converted into an ambulance by adding a bubble light to the top, flipping the seats up in the back, putting a gurney in the back and changing the sign in the window. When a request for transport came in, the people who were on call anyway to pick up a deceased loved one easily doubled up as ambulance drivers to transport the sick and injured to the hospital, knowing full well that those customers would eventually be looking for the home’s primary business as well.

In 1970, the entire system that deals with emergency care including Emergency rooms and ambulances came under fire when a study revealed that a soldier shot in the jungles of Vietnam had a far greater chance of survival than a person of similar age shot in any of the US urban areas. The system was completely overhauled. In the 70’s big cities saw the expansion of Emergency Rooms into full trauma centers and ambulances got a complete makeover. Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training became standard and minimal equipment became a requirement. Actually, the equipment list became so extensive that it would no longer fit in the existing ambulances and by 1976 production of the car-based ambulance had all but ceased in favor of vehicles based on the heavier duty frames like those found on the Vans and Trucks that still dominate today.

Two LifeCare Medics, Rich K. and Mike Bridge called me one day in the mid 90’s telling me how they had just spotted this Cadillac Ambulance with a "for sale" sign sitting in front of a junkyard. I immediately went over to take a look at it. It was a 1963 Miller-Meteor combination Hearse/Ambulance in awful shape. As far as I could find out, it was licensed as a Professional car last in Georgia in 1976 and used to be green. My first decision was to walk away from it and I thought that would be the end of it. By the end of the week, more than half the calls I got were from people, including my mother, telling me about this vehicle that would be such a perfect addition to the ambulance service as it would be perfect for Parades and the like.
The next week, I met up with Dave Viola at an Ohio Ambulance convention. Dave operates one of the very few remaining  funeral home/ ambulance services in Ohio and was so excited about the vehicle that we partnered up and bought it. Shortly after getting it, I met up with Dave somewhere in between our service area. As I left the highway in Mansfield, the brakes failed and I finally came to a stop after going through an intersection. The vehicle needed an incredible amount of work and we looked very hard that day to decide whether it was worth salvaging this rotting hulk of history or if we should just leave the title on the dash and abandon it at the restaurant where we met . After crawling all over it, we decided the good outweighed the bad and Dave Vaughn came over to tow it back to South Amherst Auto Body west of Cleveland.

The two main players in the rebuild were Claude, the owner and Sammy, who did most of the bodywork and finishing. After 6 weeks, the vehicle came out looking like new on the outside and in the back. It was outfitted with an old gurney Tom Zilka had donated in the early eighties and it went straight to car shows where it received a lot of attention. I was pretty annoyed in the beginning that most people born after 1970 thought it was only a hearse or, even worse, the ghostbusters car, and I went to great length to point out it was an ambulance. In one case, the organizer of a car show at a  nursing facility insinuated I was scaring the residents and asked me to take leave with it. Dave Viola had no such issues at all. He would get it for the Halloween parade in Minerva, turn it into the ghostbuster mobile, dress all the occupants in the appropriate garb and play the song from the movie.

About a year after the bodywork had been completed Claude, the owner of the bodyshop, suddenly collapsed and passed away. His wife accepted the offer to use the vehicle he had spent so much time on restoring and he was brought to his final resting place in it. The bodyshop closed about 6 months later and Sammy, the bodyman who did such a wonderful job on the rebuilt, accepted an offer to do all the bodywork on the LifeCare fleet and keep them in top shape. He also does all the bodywork on the toys in the toybox when time allows

People ask me every once in a while if I have a favorite vehicle in the Toybox and I would easily say, mainly because of my personal history with pre-hospital medicine, that this would be the one. The car-based ambulance started disappearing in the mid '70's as equipment and training increased and by the time I started as an EMT in 1984, only one local department still used them. At that time, Lorain County had only a very few Paramedic providers. By the time LifeCare was started in 1986, Cities started demanding Paramedic care and there was no chance the equipment needed would ever fit in the old style ambulances.
Since that time, equipment has gotten smaller but, since training has become more advanced, more stuff made its way in the ambulances.
Our (LifeCare's) current ambulances are a GPS tracked Wi-Fi hot-spots. the crews use computers, Mobile data terminals, twelve-lead monitors with cardiac pacers and they are able to confer directly with dedicated ER physicians and Cath-labs on cell phones while showing them rhythm strips and other info. They deal with Trauma centers and Medical Helicopters and all is coordinated through a computer aided dispatch center where a few professionals manage and follow every move of 50 or so vehicles as they respond based on a single number dialed (911) and transport the sick and injured to wherever they need to be to get the best chance at a quick recovery

None of this existed when this ambulance was built

Every once in a while, when I look at the Cadillac , I remember a case in the eighties, where we responded to a diabetic shock. This is a situation where too much insulin causes too little sugar to be in the bloodstream to feed the brain. it results in unconsciousness and progressive brain damage until some sugar is added to the blood, usually through an IV if the person is unable to eat. We found the patient and gave him the solution. He woke up and declined further treatment. This would have been very routine if it was not for the events on the way back to the station. As we neared the hospital, we were passed by a car, driven at a high rate of speed and being chased by a number of police cars. the car pulled into the emergency room and the driver, an elderly man, jumped out and started for the Emergency room only to be tackled by the cops on the way. It turned out that this man was a physician who had long retired from daily practice but was still the family doctor to a few people, including our patient. His wife had called him before she called the ambulance and he responded as he would have done when he was still practicing medicine when there were no doctors assigned to Emergency rooms and no medical care was given on the ambulance. This patient would have been transported to the hospital where he would have had to wait for a physician to direct his care. All the while his brain would have been slowly dying.

How things have changed



Pictures from the rebuilt in 1997

As with any vehicle that spends time driving through winters, this one had quite a bit of rust and the first few weeks of the rebuilt were spent welding new sheetmetal where it was needed the most. The floor, especially, required a lot of work

All the paint was stripped off the car from the window level down and new panels were fabricated for virtually the entire lower end of the vehicle

It spent about six weeks in the bodyshop. After it came out, the transmission was replaced, but so was the entire brake system

The cot is a 1950's Washington Mortuary model that was made especially for the low roof ambulances as the caster arms are very unusual. It had not been touched in a while but came back to life after a thorough cleaning. Lowering it would require the guy at the head-end to lift his foot up so he could push in the bar that collapses the entire structure.

In December 2010, it participated in the "Miracle on Main Street" Parade in Amherst and delivered Santa to the square in Elyria the next day, guided allong by all the ambulances in town