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Paramedic evolution: From ‘grab and go’ to high-tech lifesaving services

Volunteers were the first ambulance drivers for Langley Memorial Hospital
Paramedics load an injured pedestrian into an ambulance after she was struck by a vehicle in Langley City in 2018. (Langley Advance Times files)

Langley Memorial Hospital is celebrating 75 years of service in this community. In a series of stories over the coming months, the Langley Advance Times, in conjunction with the hospital foundation, takes a look at the past, present, and future of health care in Langley from a few different perspectives.


Ambulance service in Langley has changed drastically through the years, evolving along with the community and with Langley Memorial Hospital itself.

The first ambulance service in Langley started up shortly after the first official hospital opened in 1948, but for the next several decades, it was an often informal service.

According to The Hospital on the Hill, a history of Langley Memorial edited by Doris Riedweg, a man named Grant Hunter operated a single ambulance for several years starting the same year the hospital opened its doors, but little is known beyond the fact that the hospital administration considered his vehicle “a fine piece of equipment.”

By 1956, the community needed a new ambulance service, and Allan “Al” Anderson, who owned and operated Columbia Funeral Service with his wife Marjory, stepped up.

The Andersons bought an ambulance from Langley Taxi, and Allan and a group of volunteers organized to drive it.

Willing participants who lived near Columbia Funeral were among the first drivers of what was known as the Columbia Ambulance Service.

Their first call was to a child who had been hit by a car near 192nd Street and Fraser Highway.

The service lost Anderson money most years, even after Langley City and Township agreed to kick in $300 per month to subsidize the program.

The drivers weren’t using the big van-style ambulances that have been common for the last 40 years or so, they were using modified sedans that more closely resembled large station wagons, or hearses. And most drivers weren’t paramedics, they just rushed injured or ill people to the hospital as quickly as possible.

RECENT: Tour of duty at LMH was ‘exuberant, uplifting experience’

In August, 1973, Anderson sold the ambulance service to new owners, but it wouldn’t stay in private hands for long. In 1975, the province created the Provincial Ambulance Service, the forerunner of the modern BC Emergency Health Service (BCEHS).

Anderson didn’t live to see the changeover – at the young age of 47, he was killed in a crash near Hope. Langley City renamed its outdoor pool to Al Anderson Memorial Pool in honour of the services he had provided to the community over the years.

The provincial ambulance service has continued to change, even over the last 23 years that Robert Whincup has worked for it.

Currently a manager of patient care delivery, Whincup was a paramedic for 20 years before that, working out of Cloverdale, Richmond and Delta, with frequent trips to Langley, as ambulance crews move around to serve where they’re needed.

Before EHS, Whincup noted that ambulances were “grab and go” affairs, with little to no medical treatment en route.

“Back in the day, it was run by the funeral homes, different agencies, like the police and fire departments,” he said.

Now patients get medical aid immediately before and during the ambulance ride.

Even over his 23-year tenure with EHS, that has changed, from a more checklist-style mode of operation, to one that gives paramedics more flexibility, and relies more on their training.

“We’re really treating a patient now,” he said.

Technology means GPS and digital patient records, but it also means that specialists can use live video links to speak to and assess patients while they’re still in the ambulance.

Whincup also saw the difference between LMH’s old ER and their current facility, just upgraded a few years ago.

More parking for ambulances, a private entrance, and beds immediately inside where treatment can continue are among the big improvements.

“It’s way better,” Whincup said of the new ER. “It’s fantastic.”

It’s a far cry from the days of volunteers bundling patients into the back of a modified sedan.

READ ALSO: Retired doctors and nurses help preserve medical history in Langley


Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation fundraises throughout the year to support health-care workers and allow them to keep providing life-saving care. To this end, the foundation is preparing for its annual hospital gala. This year’s event, dubbed Hot Havana Nights, is being held Oct. 21 at the Coast Hotel & Convention Centre. It’s the 32nd year. Money raised will support the urgent need to expand cardiac care at the Langley Hospital. For info:

• And, for more LMH history check out this special publication.

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BCEHS manager Robert Whincup, centre, with primary care paramedics Ashleah McDonald (left) and Josh Lowery (right). (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)
BC Ambulance paramedics assisting a man in medical distress near the Surrey-Langley border in 2022. (Langley Advance Times files)

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Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
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