Emergency Medical Services (EMS) in Door County was initially provided by the funeral homes, as they had the only type of vehicles that could transport a recumbent patient and were staffed by personnel who had some form of first aid training. The modernization of EMS began in the mid-1960s with the advent of CPR, defibrillation and a white paper titled “Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society”. This report called for change because of the following statistics from 1965: 52 million accidental injuries killed 107,000, temporarily disabled over 10 million and permanently impaired 400,000 at a cost of $18 billion
Our service started when the funeral homes didn’t feel they could provide the service any longer. The Sheriff’s Office started an ambulance division in 1970, the service began operating at the EMT level. In 1975 the county officially created the Door County Ambulance Service and added the north station in Sister Bay.
The road to becoming a paramedic service proved to be very challenging, but with the leadership of Fritz Brunswick, Joe Mango, Dr. John Herlache, the county board, and strong community support, our service became the first rural paramedic service in Wisconsin and there are some claims that we were the first in the United States. Personnel completed their paramedic training in 1979, and started responding as paramedics in 1980.
In the early 80’s the fire departments and some townships began forming first responder groups (now called emergency medical responders/EMR). The personnel were trained and quickly became a vital part of our response system, and still are critical to the care provided to our patients. There are currently 172 EMRs serving throughout the county, but at one point there were over 250 EMRs serving.
Our call volume has increased 210% since 1981. 2019 was our busiest year with 3,667 responses. Our system remains unique in the state of Wisconsin as only one of two county wide paramedic services. To meet the response demands, our service currently employees a director, two captains, two billing staff, 18 full-time paramedics, six part-time paramedics, and 43 EMTs. The most important aspect of meeting the response demands is our partnerships with the Sheriff’s Office, Sturgeon Bay Police, the 10 fire departments and 11 EMR groups.
The department took over Emergency Government and Communications causing our title to change to Emergency Services in the late 80’s. Communications went to the Sheriff’s Office in 2001 and Emergency Management became its own department (with Communications) in 2017.
Prior to 1989 our paramedics responded from their homes, to the station, and then to the scene with the ambulance. In 1989 that changed, the Sturgeon Bay paramedics were “quartered” in the basement/jail of the safety building (now the government center). In 1990 our station on 18th Ave (the hospitals front yard) was built, and we occupied that building until 2017 when we moved to the new “Old Highway Shop” station. The north paramedics were quartered for the first time in 2004 when a new station was constructed in partnership with the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Department. In 2018 we completed the new south station and are currently working on a new Island station.
The first “ambulances” in the county doubled as hearses (we know what you’re thinking) followed by the Sheriff’s Office using station wagons to do double duty. The first true ambulances in the county were vans that could securely hold a stretcher and some limited equipment. The fleet has grown to nine ambulances, with four built on van chassis and five built on 4x4 truck chassis. These vehicles are essentially portable emergency rooms.
The EMS personnel throughout the county are highly dedicated and proud as they strive to provide the highest level of care to our patients in a prompt manner. We work in concert with our partners in Public Safety on a daily basis to ensure we do our part in protecting the community.
2020 marks Emergency Services 50th year of service to the community. We are very proud of reaching this benchmark. We are extremely grateful for the support of the community, our fellow county employees, and the county board.