Second of 2 parts
“Take a meat cutter, an electrician, school teachers, a farmer and painting contractor, mix them with a few pieces of equipment every other Thursday night and what have you got?” This question was posed in a newspaper article from Aug. 28, 1950. Turns out, this odd combination is the recipe for Manatee County’s first rescue squad.
The Palmetto Fire Rescue Squad was organized in 1952 “because there was a need,” explained Mayor Bob Hunt in an article from the Palmetto Press written in 1985. In the early 1950s, funeral homes were still providing ambulance service. Not only was this unit Manatee County’s first rescue squad, but the only one of its kind between Tampa and Miami. The original team included George Regan, Bill Bellamy, Phil Lewers, Charles Bailey, Bob Miller, Sr., Bob Hunt, Sr., Enoch Wingert, Harold Thornton and Jimmy Devito. The squad was comprised entirely of volunteers and remained an all-volunteer force as late as 1985.
1952 The Palmetto Fire Rescue Squad was organized.
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Their first rescue vehicle was an old Dodge, but the squad was eventually able to buy a 1940 Econoline van. They put an “old time wind siren called a Federal Q” on the van, but it didn’t necessarily make it easier to arrive on the scene in a timely fashion. “Whenever the siren blew, the engine quit,” remarked Hunt.
While they had to make do at times with less-than-ideal equipment, the Palmetto Fire Rescue Squad eventually acquired some gear that was ahead of its time: The unit was one of the first in the state in water rescue with “aqua lungs.” Flipping through old newspapers, the need for a rescue squad that can handle aquatic emergencies becomes evident: It seems like every other week a water-related tragedy was reported. One such incident occurred on Feb. 19, 1963. While driving over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Mr. & Mrs. Carl Bohman’s small car was swept off the Skyway approach road by high winds. At 7:30 a.m., a frantic call came into Troop “F” Headquarters of the Highway Patrol in Bradenton, saying that a vehicle was overturned in the waters off the Skyway.
“Aqua lungs” rescued a woman whose car was swept off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Feb. 19, 1963.
Trooper H.R. Ackett was the first to arrive on the scene (aside from the 50-100 civilians gathered) and heard screams coming from the vehicle. He tied a chain around his waist (provided by an onlooker) and waded into the water up to his shoulders before reaching the car. Inside, Ackett found Irene Bohman at an awkward angle in the backseat, breathing the only pocket of air left in the vehicle, trapped in by the floorboards. By the time Manatee Deputy Sheriff Jack Hobbs arrived on the scene, Mrs. Bohman had been in the chilly water for about an hour.
Both Hobbs and Ackett took turns supporting the exhausted victim so she could reach the air pocket to breathe while they tried to get her out of the car. Luckily, the Palmetto Rescue Squad arrived with their water-rescue gear. Mrs. Bohman was given an underwater breathing apparatus while the squad used their hydraulic equipment (a predecessor to the “jaws of life”) to circumvent the jammed doors and were able to remove her from the vehicle. While Mr. Bohman’s life was tragically lost, his wife was saved due to Palmetto Rescue Squad and the bravery of those first responders.
Today, firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergency medical technicians work together to respond to all emergencies that come through the 911 system. Manatee County Emergency Medical Services was established by the Board of County Commissioners in 1975 to provide emergency pre-hospital care and transport for all Manatee County citizens and visitors. They have at least 18 units and respond to over 38,000 emergency calls a year, providing service to all the cities and unincorporated areas of Manatee County. In addition to these ground units, MCEMS also has access to five helicopters for rapid air transport (normally used to transport trauma patients to hospitals in St. Petersburg and Tampa). In the summer of 2015, the average response time to an emergency call was 7.47 minutes.