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Ambulance service on Pine Island over the years

December 11, 2013
Pine Island Eagle

"So should I tip 10 percent or 15 percent?" Thoughts of a worried Pine Island resident on his way to the hospital.

We take for granted today that when a medical emergency occurs, we can dial 9-1-1 and the fine technicians of Lee County EMS will be at our home in a few short minutes. That has not always been the case on Pine Island. Prior to 1960 the Engelhardt Funeral Home in Fort Myers served our community with ambulance service.

When there was a need for trip to the Lee Memorial Hospital, you would call the Sunset Tackle Shop in Matlacha, and they would contact Engelhardt to dispatch an ambulance. The tackle shop had one of the few phones on the island, and I guess you could always check on the fishing while you waited, which could be a while.

A trip out here from the funeral home was at least 30 minutes. That all changed in 1959 when Engelhardt donated a 1946 Cadillac ambulance to our volunteer fire department.

To finance the operation of the ambulance, the fire department started the sale of transportation tickets at a cost of $1 per family. A couple of years later the ticket cost was raised to $3 to cover additional expenses.

In 1964, the ambulance service made 30 emergency trips to the hospital. That same year Engelhardt donated two additional ambulances to keep the service up to date. In 1965 Engelhardt gave the fire department an International Travelall, which was converted into the "finest ambulance in Lee County," according to the County Health Department Inspector.

As the cost increased to maintain the ambulance fleet, the cost of the transportation tickets increased. In a 1977 article in the Eagle, it was noted that for Pine Island residents "a mere $20 gives you an unlimited number of emergency trips to the hospital with no charge for oxygen, aspirator and bandages."

It was pointed out in the same article that the "Lee County ambulance service cost $35 per trip with charges for all of the extras."

By 1985, the county took over the ambulance service and the tickets were replaced by a property tax of $20 on each dwelling, and $10 on each space in the trailer parks.

I guess you did not have to worry now how much to tip the ambulance driver.


This from a reader last week, Phyllis Gill, a seasonal resident from Gaylord, Mich.:

"My husband (at age 17) served on it (USS Pine Island) from 1945 to 1947 and was part of the exploration to the Antarctica under Admiral Byrd for "Operation High Jump." On Christmas Day 1947, a plane from the Pine Island piloted by the captain flew into the side a mountain and several men killed. The rest were kept alive by burning dripping aviation fuel. All suffered frost bite. It was foggy so they could not rescue them for several days. Christmas dinner on ship was delayed until the survivors were returned to the ship. We gave copies of several photographs of the expedition to the museum here."


For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.

The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.

Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.



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