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He Gave Us All a Lift: Remembering EMS pioneer Richard Ferneau

Issue 11 and Volume 34.

Dick Ferneau and El Bourgraf were not only partners in the stretcher manufacturing businessƒthey were also best friends. This combination of a work partnership and friendship kept the two innovating around the clock, in and out of the office. One day in 1958, the young founders of the Ferno Manufacturing Co. were invited to their secretary/receptionist/bookkeeper_s house for a cold beer as a well-deserved break from their long day at the office.„

Soon after they arrived, their triple-duty employee begged their forgiveness as she took out her ironing board to iron a dress for her daughter. Both young stretcher pioneers watched as she pushed an easy-to-
access release lever on the side of the ironing board, raised it all the way up, and then adjusted it down to the exact height that would allow her to easily sit and iron her daughter_s clothes.„

After witnessing that display of mechanical simplicity, Ferneau and Bourgraf returned to their workshop inspired to apply the same idea to an ambulance cot. It took just one week and several iterations until the pair developed a cot that could handle the weight of an adult patient and still operate quickly and easily.„

The basic idea, however, was the same as the ironing board they watched their employee operate in her home that fateful evening. She had helped them invent the Model 30 “X” frame multi-level, adjustable stretcher that soon took the ambulance industry by storm. From that day forward, Ferneau and Bourgraf continued to involve their employees and end users in the thought process and design stages of product development.

On Sept. 8, 2009, Richard “Dick” Ferneau, pioneer of ambulance lifting and moving devices, died at the age of 90. As I looked back at his long life_s work, I realized how much he gave to EMS and felt it was important to share his story with our readers.„

Following high school, Ferneau joined the Washington Mortuary Supply Co. in 1937. After serving with the U.S. Army in World War II, he rejoined the company and advanced to general manager in 1947. He soon pioneered the use of aluminum tubing rather than steel to build mortuary and ambulance cots, greatly reducing their weight. Then, in 1952, Ferneau revolutionized the delivery of EMS when he developed the first elevating ambulance cot.

Three years later, Ferneau and Bourgraf formed the Ferno Manufacturing Co., and, in just five years, became so successful that they were able to acquire the Washington Mortuary Supply Co. In 1963, they changed the company_s name to Ferno-Washington, which is now located in Wilmington, Ohio.

The transfer of patients at different levels was a continual complaint by ambulance personnel at the time, so in 1958, just three years after forming their own company, Ferneau and Bourgraf developed and introduced the first “X” frame all-level cot, the legendary “Model 30.” With eight levels, the Model 30 became the workhorse of the industry, not only in the U.S., but in many countries around the world. It was popular for years until Ferneau introduced the EMS industry to the roll-in, battery-operated and back-saving Ferno stretchers and transport adjuncts we use today.„

In addition to cots, Ferneau and Bourgraf developed such products as the highly functional “Scoop” stretcher, the aluminum backboard, sturdy cot fasteners, lightweight stair chairs and vinyl stretchers, basket stretchers and patient restraints.

In 1990, Ferneau was awarded NAEMT_s highest honor, the Rocco V. Morando Lifetime Achievement Award. He was an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a benefactorƒand a friend to all who knew him.„

Dick Ferneau was more than an innovative manufacturer; he cared deeply about the people who were called on to lift, move and transport patients of all sizes. His personal mission was to make our job easierƒand safer. This earned Dick a special place in EMS history and in our hearts.JEMS

Learn more from A.J. Heightman at the EMS Today„

Conference & Expo, March 2Ï6 in Baltimore.

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