Asbury Park Press
Cheers filled the air as Steve Hines drove the Belmar First Aid Squad’s 1938 Ford ambulance one last time.
As Hines pressed on the gas Friday, the sirens sung. He gave the 83-year-old ambulance as much gas as it would take to accelerate onto a truck that would drive it approximately 650 miles to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan — the ambulance’s new home.
Hines said he felt a little emotional.
“You know, folks came out and it’s a part of history going down the road — good history,” he said.
Hines was a member of Belmar’s First Aid Squad since 1975. His father joined in 1938.
“Me and my brother stepped right into the first aid squad because it was something you did back then,” said Hines.
The squad disbanded in March due to financial strain and now they say goodbye to an ambulance that is symbolic of the squad’s history, a history that let go of many ambulances in their time, but not this one.
Since the squad disbanded, the people of their community searched for a new home for the ambulance: “A lot of people with a lot of pride,” said Hines.
They called on Robert Davidson, the parts manager at Sea Breeze Ford in Wall where the ambulance was originally purchased in 1938. Back then the dealership was known as Geiger Ford.
Davidson has been in the business since 1973. To him, the ambulance is a memory that should be preserved forever.
So Davidson made some calls to his contacts at the Ford Motor Co.
In his search, Davidson found Greg Thompson, East market area manager, and Ted Ryan, archivist and heritage brand manager for Ford. Through a numerous exchange of phone calls and emails slowed down by the pandemic, Thompson and Ryan learned the car was in almost perfect condition, with the original bill of sale and a rich backstory.
An undeniable piece of history, the two had to take it to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, a museum know for its collection of items showcasing American ingenuity, including, of course, namesake Ford vehicles.
“It shows our long history in the service industry,” said Thompson. “We made 100,000 ambulances for World War II and have been providing service vehicles to different communities — and around the world, for that matter — for almost 100 years.”
They arrived at nine o’clock Friday and while everyone else said goodbye, Thompson and Ryan said hello.
“I’m excited to be able to continue to tell the story because it will get told. We have activations planned for the ambulance to continue to tell the story of service to the community. That’s what this group is doing and that’s what Ford does,” said Thompson.
Davidson stared at the ambulance, circling it as it entered the truck.
“It’s nostalgic,” said Davidson. “It’s going to be preserved, you know? It’ll be sitting in the museum where it belongs,” he said.
The ambulance will go to the Woodward Dream Cruise, the world’s largest one-day auto event, drawing in 1.5 million people and 40,000 classic cars from around the globe each year, according to their website.
Ryan will be the person in charge of showing the ambulance to the world. “We’re excited. I can’t tell you how excited,” said Ryan. “It is just the passion that these guys have. I mean (they have) the original stretchers, the original splints, every bandage, the original receipt,” he said. The original bill of sale dates to Feb. 10, 1938.
The former squad members have good reason to be proud of the squad’s lifesaving history.
“It’s basically part of Belmar’s history and its historic first aid squad because it was one of the original ones in the country,” said Spencer Heulit, president of Belmar’s Historical Society.
He walks over with a 1941 photocopied Reader’s Digest article titled, “Samaritans of the Gold Cross,” by William Evans. The article tells the beginnings of Belmar First Aid Squad and its founder Charles Measure
Measure was an ambulance driver in France in World War I with the Rainbow Division and that gold cross was the cross of the squad.
“As a volunteer fireman in Belmar, Measure saw many accidents at the beach or on the highway, where the victim was bundled into the nearest car and dashed off to a hospital,” said the article.
Through Measure’s war experience, he learned the virtues of skilled first aid, which led him to advocate for a trained rescue squad, the article said.
Since the disbandment, the Borough Council unanimously passed an ordinance establishing a Division of Emergency Medical Services under the Department of Public Safety, putting the squad to bed after 93 years of service.
The division is designated as the official EMS provider for the borough and will take over equipment and paid staff from the original squad.
“It’s sad that it’s got to go this way, but you know, that’s the way everything is going,” said Hines.
Lana Leonard is the Asbury Park Press summer intern. They are attending The College of New Jersey and can be reached at LLeonard@gannett.com