An air ambulance is a specially outfitted fixed wing aircraft that transports injured or sick people over distances that a conventional ground ambulance can’t reach. This can either be due to restrictions of materials, time, or terrain.
These vehicles, much like ground ambulances, are equipped with medical equipment to monitor and treat patients. Air ambulances are particularly important in a region where the terrain is too rough or the roads aren’t as suitable for a simple ground ambulance vehicle. In Jamaica, for example, where the interior of the country is covered in rugged countryside, such a service is particularly important. This, along with the demand for better access to healthcare, is why Duane Boise founded his company, EMED Jamaica.
Air ambulances first started with their roots in the military. Almost immediately after flight was developed, military powers recognized its potential – not just as a weapon of war, but also as a way to quickly and efficiently transport wounded soldiers.
The first true air ambulance flight occurred during World War I when a Serbian officer was flown from the battlefield to hospital by the French Air Service. The French discovered that air ambulances cut the mortality rate of injured soldiers from 60 percent to just under 10 percent. Airplanes were a lot more efficient and much faster than ambulance cars, less susceptible to terrain, and made for more difficult targets. To exemplify this revolutionary efficiency, look at this example: a British soldier who was shot in the ankle was flown to a hospital in just 45 minutes, which, on ground, would have been a journey that took over 3 days to complete. From there, the air ambulance service was born, and was widely used again in World War II.
As a civilian phenomenon, the idea of an air ambulance developed out of practicality. In remote, sparsely populated regions inaccessible by road for months at a time, communities relied on bush pilots, who flew small aircraft to transport supplies, mail, and visitors.
There’s no official first air ambulance event, but as aviation took of in the 1920s, many of these bush pilots would transport injured or sick people living in remote settlements to hospitals. In 1928, the first official full-time air ambulance service was established in the Australian outback, which eventually became the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is still in operation to this day. In 1947, the first air ambulance service in the US, the Schaefer Air Service, was established in Los Angeles.
Since these early days, air ambulances have grown in their size, scope, and popularity. In the US alone, helicopters and airplanes carry out approximately half a million transports every year. For more than 100 years now, various air ambulances services, EMED Jamaica included, have been at the forefront of ensuring that people get access to efficient emergency medical services, no matter where they are.