Morgan shares story of Rockford Ambulance

Historical meeting tells tales, next is November 5 at 7 p.m.

In 1972, Rockford Ambulance was in its infancy with $5,800 in assets and one van. According to director Roger Morgan, despite humble beginnings the service has always been a leader in care. He spoke before the October Rockford Historical Society meeting on Thursday, October 1.

“Rockford Ambulance has always been ahead of the curve,” he stated. At the time the staff was all volunteer and service calls were $10. In 1973 a board was brought on to help run the service. Offering ambulance service was encouraged by the county as a benefit to residents. Larry Root was the only wage earner on the management team. He took in $30 a week for his efforts while others, including Dave Pederson, worked for free.

“I got this information off a piece of parchment that looked like the Declaration of Independence should be written on it,” joked Morgan of his research materials.

Back then Rockford Ambulance was struggling to buy the radios they needed. He said care during transportation was different from today. Calling it the “V8 treatment” because of the fast vehicles and said the technique was to get the people into the van and “go like heck.”

In 1983 the service had an annual budget of $158,000. Medics were paid $2.50 an hour. They were paid hourly until 10 p.m. and after that earned $3 per call during the night.

When Morgan was recruited to lead the company in 1984, the station was housed with the City of Rockford Department of Public Works downtown. “They called and said, “We threw a bunch of applications in the air and yours came out on top,” Morgan recalled. “They offered me $15,000 a year to run the service. I said to them, “You better call the guy who came in second.” We settled on $18,000.”

Morgan said he was the 340th paramedic licensed in the state of Michigan. Back then there were only ten protocols allowed to paramedics—only ten treatments that could be used before getting to the hospital. “Now there are 200,” he said.

In 1985 the ambulance began offering the Care Plan Membership, where a cost of only $39 per year covers a family from out-of-pocket ambulance costs. Squire Publisher Roger Allen was the first to sign up.

Around that time the ambulance company purchased five acres on the corner of Myers Lake Road and M-57 for $6,200. Playing a joke, Morgan put a sign up in the yard of one of the board members declaring it the location of a future Rockford Ambulance sub-station and ran it in the newspaper. He felt lucky to have kept his job after the overwhelming number of calls from neighbors worried about the plan.

In 1988 the service expanded into Lowell. Morgan recalled he used to drive the ambulance often in those days. “When you are the only full-time person with 16 volunteers, you get to do that,” he said.

In 1999 the service bought a lot in Belmont for their newest substation. In 2000 Rockford Ambulance and another ambulance service merged, which Morgan called “history repeating itself.”

In 2001 the service expanded into Grand Rapids Township. “It was our first contract for services,” he said. Currently there are 41 full time employees of Rockford Ambulance and 26 part timers. Technology has become wireless and changed vastly.

The care plan is still being offered, however. Morgan commented on a question from the audience about how they came up with the $39 cost.

“It’s less than $40,” Morgan said. “It’s cheaper than dinner and a movie.” He said the company doesn’t really want to make money on the service, but believes people will be quicker to call if they know it won’t cost them anything. “I would rather have people call and not have them worry about it.”

Rockford Ambulance now covers Plainfield, Cannon, Grattan, Oakfield, Courtland, Spencer, Nelson, Algoma, Solon, Lowell, Vergennes, Sparta, Tyrone, Chester, Grant and Grand Rapids townships as well as the cities of Casnovia, Kent City, Sparta, Cedar Springs, Rockford and Lowell. To find more about the plan or to purchase a membership, call (616) 866-0724.

The next Rockford Historical Society meeting is Thursday, November 5 at 7 p.m. at the Rockford Community Cabin on Monroe Street. Rockford Public School’s Mike Cuneo will speak on the districts improvements and additions. The public is invited to attend and there is no charge. Refreshments will be provided.

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