Looking Closely Into The EMT History

An EMT is an Emergency Medical Technician and the history of this profession is quite an interesting one to consider. In many cases you will be required to study EMT history and answer questions on it in your certification exam in order t qualify as an EMT.

The History Of The EMT Profession

The history of the EMT profession is a fairly long one, but at the same time it can be said that this profession has not been around for a very long time, at least in comparison to some of the other professions that are out there. The main aim of the EMT profession, which can be inferred from the EMT history, as well as the EMS profession in general is to reduce unnecessary injuries and deaths. There is a huge demand for professionals in this line of work. In fact there are more job openings than professional EMTs to fill them. As a result many EMT training programs offered at the moment are not as comprehensive as they once were on the basis that the courses have to be cut short to get more professionals into the field more quickly.

Early Years Of EMT History

In the early years of EMT history (before the 1960s) there were two major leaps forward in the area of emergency medical services:EMT History

  • Initially hearses were used in order to transport sick people to hospitals or to their homes simply on the basis that the cars were long enough for the stretchers. The funeral workers had no medical training but this did point out the need for special vehicles for the purpose.
  • The Second World War resulted in another leap forward as rescue teams began to crop up in various places. However there were no standards in place and pre-hospital care, as it was known at the time, consisted well-intentioned but uncoordinated efforts. Coordinated efforts to provided emergency medical services were not established until the 1960s.

Emergency Care In The 1960s

By the 1960s there were come standards in place. However these standards for emergency medical care only existed in six different states and, like with all things related to the medical field in the US, each of these states had subtly different standards by which it expected its EMTs to function. There were still two major problems at this point:

  • Ambulances were not yet suitable for transporting patients effectively and safely and could not accommodate all of the equipment necessary.
  • Only a few ambulances at the time had radio access, making it difficult to communicate with hospitals regarding EMS care.

Perhaps the biggest problem at this stage was the fact that a large number of EMTs working in the emergency medical services during this time period had no medical training at all. Even those who had training were not what you could call experts.

1966 Milestones

In 1966 a number of important milestones for the EMT profession were reached which changed the way emergencies were dealt with from thereon out. The first event which occurred in 1966 was a report published by the National Academy of Sciences recommending extensive regulations and methodologies aimed at improving the nation’s ambulance system. This was largely in response to the fact that, the year before the report was published, more people died as the result of car accidents (mainly due to not receiving medical aid quickly enough) than had died in the Vietnam War. The second even that occurred in 1966 was the creation of the U.S. Department of Transportation which aimed to implement training standards for emergency responders as well as advanced education regimes for emergency medical technicians and other emergency respondents.

Continued Developments

After that there were a number of important developments in EMT history that made a substantial difference to how the profession operated and was viewed:

  • 1967: The first authoritative textbook for emergency personnel (“Emergency Care and Transportation of the Sick and Injured”) was written by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.
  • 1973 (1997 for official registration): the EMT symbol, the Star of Life, was designed (this symbolizes detection, reporting, response, on-scene care, in-transit care and “transfer to definitive care)
  • 1973: The EMS System Act was enacted, funding 300 regional EMS systems

All of these changes show a gradual shift towards viewing the EMT profession as a separate career path and a separate discipline that needed its own rules and its own symbolism. As you can see many of the major changes in EMT history happened fairly recently.

National Standards

Three important events took place in 1975 which have a huge bearing on EMT history. Firstly the American Medical Association acknowledged emergency medicine as a specialty, secondly the University of Pittsburgh established the first EMT training course, and last but not least an association for the profession was founded. This association was known as the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians. These three precipitating events gradually led to the standardization of practice procedures in emergency medical settings and the profession gradually became formalized with its own set of rules to follow.

  • 1977: The National Association of EMS Educators was created
  • 1978: The Journal of Emergency Medical Services began publication
  • 1978: The American Ambulance Association was formed
  • 1982: EMS funding and authority was placed in the hands of states and local government (and still does today)

Modern Paramedics

The paramedic profession today has take the role of the EMT one step further in that they are allowed to provide care other than that which is required in emergency medical situations. The actual role of a modern paramedic differs from state to state, but it is generally accepted that they have greater standing and more authority than the average EMT. If, however, the history of the EMT profession is anything to go by we can expect further developments to take place. In the future EMTs may have the same training and standing as paramedics have today and paramedics themselves may be required to receive advanced medical training that will put them on the same level as nurses or perhaps even doctors. The important thing to note it that EMT history is in the making today and there is plenty of room for growth in the industry.

The History Of The Emergency Medical Service

We rely heavily on the emergency medical services provided for us in this country and we expect to be able to get hold of an emergency response team by simply pushing a few buttons on our phone and making a call. However this service is something that only came into being relatively recently. The end of the 18th century saw the first major moves towards a cohesive medical emergency response system while the services that we take for granted today have only been around since the 20th century. The history of the emergency medical services is a brief one, but it is nonetheless extremely interesting despite its brevity. As with EMT history, we can expect to see further advances in EMS history as time passes and better technology is developed globally.


There are a number of events in history that show that for most of our existence human beings have been concerned with caring for patients who suffer medical emergencies. Let’s look at two main examples:

  • In biblical times a story is told of the Good Samaritan who helps an injured man and takes him to an inn, leaving instructions for his care.
  • In 1090 (the Middle Ages) the Order of St. John was created by a group of knights who later became known as the Knights Hospitaller. These knights dedicated themselves to treating injuries on the battlefield.

However these are examples of isolated events that did not represent coordinated action to establish a standardized system for assisting people in medical emergencies. This was not to develop for many years after the Knights Hospitaller made their mark on the world.

First Ambulance

Let’s turn now to the first official ambulance that was created and used for the purpose of emergency medical response services. Technically speaking this is not what we think of when we hear the word ambulance today. The first vehicle used for the transport of injured or ill people to a place where they could be treated (which matches out modern day understanding of the term ‘ambulance’) was used during the Napoleonic wars. Dominique-Jean Larrey, Napoleon Bonaparte’s most trusted physician, created the “flying ambulance” that was a horse-drawn carriage that carried soldiers who had been wounded or who had fallen ill to a place where they could be treated for their injuries or illnesses. Although this is still far removed from we see as an ambulance today the idea did lay the groundwork for the invention of modern day ambulances.

Ambulances At Turn Of 20th Century

Slowly but surely ambulances as we know them today began to emerge. Generally speaking ambulances are owned and supplied by each individual hospital. The following is a list of hospitals in the US that began the trend of owning vehicles specifically for the transport of injured and ill individuals:

  • The Commercial Hospital (now the Cincinnati General Hospital), Cincinnati, Ohio: In 1865 this hospital employed its first exclusive vehicle for patient transportation.
  • Bellevue Hospital, New York City: The first hospital believed to carry its own medical equipment in the vehicle used for patient transportation.
  • Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, and New York City hospitals: These hospitals introduced the first motorized ambulances that ran on electricity at the beginning of the 20th century.

As a result of this ambulances became the norm and eventually developed into the state of the art vehicles we have today.

“The White Paper”

The National Academy of Sciences released a report entitled: “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society” which basically did a very good job of highlighting everything that was wrong with the medical emergency services at the time. And there was plenty wrong. The main problem that was highlighted as a theme throughout the document was that people were dying unnecessarily simply because they were not receiving help fast enough. The report, written in 1966 and known as the “White Paper” among EMT professionals prompted a revolution in terms of how the emergency medical services were run. Stronger standards were put into place and more training for EMTs and paramedics became required. Through the changes instigated by this report emergency medical services slowly started to transform into the system that we have today.

Emergency Medical Services Today

Emergency medical services as we know them today are based on a widely accepted and global standard of emergency care. Care is offered through EMS on three levels:

  • Standard care
  • Basic life support
  • Advanced life support

EMTs and paramedics are the main workers in EMS and nurses and doctors usually have contact with the EMS system. Their contact is, however, minimal and involves taking over patients that have been delivered from the scene of the accident or other medical emergency. The EMS system cannot be taken for granted. Only a very short while ago people in this country did not have access to the care that we accept as a norm. EMTs are important members of the medical profession.

EMT history is interesting to those who have a genuine passion for this line of work. In addition it is often a requirement that you know a certain amount about the history of the EMT profession in order to pass your EMT examination. The history of the emergency medical system is also an important one to know in order to have a full appreciation for what EMTs do and what their purpose and overall position in society is. Studying EMT history may not be the most important part of being an EMT, but many believe it to be necessary in order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the profession.

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