The History of Ambulance Service in East Liverpool, Ohio...
by The Digger
The following text was clipped from the internet a few years ago from the site of Dawson Funeral Home. Its accuracy is not being doubted, but is unable to be verified by Lifeteam EMS thus is not to be relied upon to base any decision.
For more than half a century, the funeral homes in East Liverpool, Ohio provided ambulance service for the community.
Like most small towns, the local mortician owned carriages and horses capable of transporting the dead, so why not the living? Never fully-trained or equipped, these “hometown heroes” became “knights of the road” with not much more at their disposal in their converted hearses than a cot, a half full oxygen bottle, under-sized sputum pan and enough red lights to illuminate a half dozen Christmas trees.
It was 1967 when the local funeral homes employed a public relations guru from Canton , Bob Fehlman, to assist us with an exit strategy from the ambulance business. His name came to us by way of an National Selected Morticians group meeting where he was credited with assisting other small town firms wanting to abandon the business. (Some business – the highest price charged at that time was $15 per call, even if it meant waiting an hour for x-rays to dry before the patient was taken to their room) Fehlman, who was a one-time employee of WHBC Radio, put together a plan which called for us to drop the service on a given day and let the chips fall where they may. The date was set and each of us was assigned the task of informing city officials, the schools, ministers and media of our decision on a fateful Monday morning. There were six of us involved: Alvin and Pete Arner, Harry and Dick Martin, along with my father, Frank A. Dawson, and myself. Things went well, and within three weeks a smooth departure was accomplished.
So who came to the rescue and what happened to our vehicles? At Fehlman’s suggestion, we were not to give them to the city (too generous), not to help someone get into the business (too stupid), and, by all means, never to make another ambulance call or even give a referral for one. Each of us had top-of-the-line cars, not vans; ours was a brand-new baby blue Cadillac and Martins had a green Packard (although Carman Perorazio of Milligan Hardware fame, who then worked for Martins, says they had switched to Cadillacs). The Dawson vehicle was sold to the Sommerset, Pennsylvania, Volunteer Fire Department. Who knows where the others went?
Within days of our announcement, potential operators came out of the woodwork. One of these was Bob D’Anniballe from Steubenville. Another was the late Jim Walker who, through a franchise agreement with the city, was currently operating the local taxi company under the name of Safeway Cab. The city sought and enacted similar licensing control over the ambulance business, and still does charge a modest fee to the taxi and ambulance companies.
Needless to say, Walker got the contract and began operating as Lynn Ambulance out of the former fire station on Lisbon Street hill. It was erroneously rumored that Lynn McFadden of Toronto backed Walker, thus the name; but according to his widow, Pat, this was untrue. While McFadden was a taxi and ambulance driver for Walker, he had no financial interest, and the name was actually derived from a funeral home in Youngstown, which Walker liked.
Another early player was Youngstown ’s Dan Becker who eventually came to town in 1971 with his Gold Cross Company. He lasted only long enough to sell to a group headed by Dave Pugh, Norm Elteringham, Jerry Esken and John Williams. Dr. David Pugh was a financial backer and a young John Diddle became an employee, working out of the old railroad station on Second Street. The name was changed to Tri-County Ambulance and moved to the Litten Motor Building at the corner of East Fifth and Walnut as Diddle began a quest to buy out the Pugh contingent. He also hired Lynn McFadden.
By 1972, we had two ambulance companies, locally-owned and dueling for the business. John Diddle was working hard to build up his newly acquired Tri-County Ambulance Company, while Jim Walker was also trying to make a go of it with Lynn Ambulance. Both companies moved from place to place for one reason or another. According to Diddle, he was twice displaced by the freeway construction, the first being from a building on Union Street, owned by John McCaughtry, and next from the old Rail Road Station on Second Street. By the mid-1980s Tri-County was on West Fifth Street, next to the Fricano Building. Then, when the Odd Fellows apartment was built in 1999, Diddle moved to the former Golden Star Dairy Building on Webber Way, the present location.
In the meantime, Lynn Ambulance was also on the move. From the ancient Lisbon Street Fire Station, the company was relocated to the one-time Paramount Gas Station on Dresden (presently Gilkinson’s Drive-Thru) then Jim Walker’s home off West Ninth Street, where he also operated Safeway Cab and, for awhile, a shuttle service for railroad employees. Allen McGaffic served as general manager of the company during those fledging years.
With so many balls in the air, along with the challenge of his political interests and major diabetes problems, it became clear to Walker that he needed to seek relief. Enter Dr. Gene Samuelson owner of the Potters Medical Center on West Sixth Street, most recently the site of the VA Clinic. Samuelson was an opportunist, if there ever was one, but even he could not make a go of the ambulance service in East Liverpool and sought help from a Lorain, Ohio businessman, named Ray Strohacker, who was then working as a consultant to Potters Medical and made a financial commitment to keep the company afloat.
By 1987, Strohacker had acquired the company stock in exchange for money owed him by Samuelson. He quickly changed the name to LIFETEAM and hired a young Kelly Betteridge as director of operations. According to Kelly, everything was changed, as Strohacker wanted to give the company a revamped look. New uniforms, updated vehicles and even a new Medicare number were part of the plan. The only things that stayed the same as the original were the phone number (386-5505) and dispatcher Lois Buckel, who was with Walker from the start in 1967. Two other long-time employees, Mary Lou King, who started in 1975, and Bill Jones remain. Currently assistant chief of the EL Fire Department, Jones began with the company prior to his graduation from ELHS in 1979.
Bob Swickard, who serves as, among other things, a suture tech in the ER at ELCH, an employee of Commercial Decal, a St. Clair Twp trustee and a Beaver Local School booster has also been with LIFETEAM from the earliest times.
Under Ray Strohacker, new headquarters were established for LIFETEAM at 142 West 7th, now the site of Kenny Olmstead’s laundromat/video store, and eventually, to the present location in the former Carroll Motor Building at 740 Dresden. The office is located next to Italo's Pizza on the first floor where the first person to greet you is Lois Buckel. Kelly Betteridge and Mary Lou King work in a rear office where all calls are recorded on a computer, unlike the old reel-to-reel tape devices. Four advance life support (ALS) vehicles and one ambulette are housed in a roof top garage next to Jack Vodrey's tennis club.
The fees at LIFETEAM run from $365 basic up through $665 for ALS. Tri-County appears to be less ($250 to $500) although each company accepts what Medicare pays, which is in the range of $145 for a basic call.
The two competing ambulance companies’ headquarters are now located within 100 yards of each other. At some point, David Poole was the general manager of LIFETEAM and Candy Solterbeck did the billing. Kelly Betteridge returned to East Liverpool from Mesa, Arizona where she had moved following graduation from Beaver Local High School in 1981. Rick Steffen, brother of Huck, was an early employee of Lynn Ambulance along with all Jim and Patty Walker’s kids and others, including Randy Taylor, East Liverpool High School teacher. Walker’s shuttle service for the railroad was used to return engineers and conductors home from distant locations. Union rules limited the amount of time they could spend riding the rails. A large garage was built at the Walker home to house all the vehicles. Patty Walker still lives at the May Street address where a sign proudly bears the name: “Jim Walker Way”. Ray Strohacker now resides in Amherst, Ohio and seldom comes to East Liverpool. Finally, a lot of water has gone over the dam since the funeral homes started transporting patients and the city was served by just three ambulances staffed by mostly untrained attendants.
Since the end of Digger's Story
Our staffing is now NEVER staffed with anyone without EMT certification. Units have been purchased every few years, and our late model fleet can be seen daily on the roads in the Valley. In 2012 Ray Strohacker made the decision to retire from the life of operating a business with 24 hour responsibility, and Lifeteam was purchased by Ken & Colleen Joseph, (both paramedics) of Carrollton and joined forces with EMT Ambulance which was started by Ken in 1996 and Tri State Ambulance. Since this time, Lifeteam has purchased a brand new station on St. Clair Ave, and updated our equipment to include 750# capacity Stryker power cots, Stryker Evacuation Chairs, pulse oximetry, capnography, on board ventilators, 12 lead transmitting heart monitors and various other treatment and diagnostic equipment. As we understand, (disclaimer in case misunderstood by us) in 2016 John Diddle made the decision to sell Tri-County Ambulance to Ambulance Service, Inc. of Steubenville. We don’t know much of the details of this, but want to say, John Diddle was a proper, honorable and classy competitor. During the many years of competition, the patients always were placed first by both services, regardless of the situation. John Diddle thru his long career has made a solid and very positive difference in the lives of MANY residents of our area.