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New book shares history of EMS in Calgary

June 10, 2019

Dr. Tim Prieur, cardiologist and board member with the EMS Foundation, at left, and Darren Sandbeck, senior provincial director and chief paramedic with EMS showcase VITAL SIGNS: A Half Century of Emergency Medical Services in Calgary. The newly released book tells the history of EMS in Calgary and was supported by the EMS Foundation.

EMS Foundation backs VITAL SIGNS, the story of half a century of pre-hospital care

Story by Amelia Schofield

CALGARY — Medical history buffs will delight in a new book that documents the rich and varied history of Emergency Medical Services in Calgary over the past 50 years.

VITAL SIGNS: A Half Century of Emergency Medical Services in Calgary — written by Zoey Duncan, with the support of the EMS Foundation — traces the history of Calgary’s earliest ambulance services to our modern-day system of care.

The story begins in the 1960s, when private companies provided pre-hospital care in Calgary. It then highlights the years the service was run by the City of Calgary, followed by what is now a provincially-led service with Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“Our history is all too often lost because no one takes the initiative to talk to the people who created this legacy and document it for the future,” says Dr. Tim Prieur, board member with the EMS Foundation.

Recognizing the history behind EMS services, and specifically, those in Calgary emerged as a significant interest to the foundation.

“At a foundation executive meeting about a year-and-a-half ago, a fellow board member asked if we had ever thought of looking at the history of EMS in Calgary,” Prieur adds.

“So, I said there are people out there that we could talk to and we could document the recent and the more-distant past, properly — but we should do it in a format where it can be shared with others. From there, we got the ball rolling.”

The EMS Foundation board showed outstanding support for the project, to the point now, where preserving the history of EMS in Alberta is one of the three key pillars of the foundation.

With his passion for history and his firsthand experience with pre-hospital care, Prieur led the project. He began by reaching out to individuals in Calgary with a knack for historical writing. He was soon introduced to Zoey Duncan, a local writer and author of a historical book on the University of Calgary’s Department of Surgery.

“Her book was so good that I read it in one night,” he says.

Prieur and the EMS Foundation approached Duncan about the opportunity, which she accepted. From there, she and Prieur spoke to countless individuals in Calgary with experienced firsthand the many phases of EMS history. Their stories were woven into VITAL SIGNS.

According to Prieur, the book is already winning rave reviews from the pre-hospital care community. “I’m a part of an international group that examines the earlier phases of pre-hospital care and already, there’s been very positive feedback from that group, saying how fantastic it is that we’ve done this.”

As the oldest organization of its type in Canada, the EMS Foundation says supporting a project like VITAL SIGNS is all about keeping the history alive.

“Preserving the history of our world and the people who created it is extremely important,” says Prieur, “and if we are able to convey it to the masses, then we’ve done our job.”

VITAL SIGNS: A Half Century of Emergency Medical Services in Calgary is available for purchase at the Provincial Uniform Logistics Centre, the EMS Calgary Zone Headquarters or by contacting the EMS Foundation.