City of Los Angeles Receiving Hospital Ambulance System

By Robert Holley


Central Receiving Hospital, 1401 W Sixth St, c1969
The new Rampart Div Police station is now on this site


In the early days of Los Angeles, if someone was sick or injured, they would be given attention by those who felt they knew what to do. In some cases they would be taken to a local doctor’s office, or hospital.

It has been written that the Police Officers would use their open, horse drawn, patrol wagons, to transport these folks to a place where they could receive treatment. I have also been told that the Fire Chief or Captain would use their buggy for the same purpose.

There came a time when the Patrol Wagons were covered, and they were used in a lot of cases to transport the sick and injured.

As the years passed and the Police Department changed to motorized vehicles, they purchased a 1908 Studebaker Electric Patrol Ambulance, which, as the story goes, had no brakes and traveled at the break-neck speed of eight miles an hour. I have not come across an accounting of just how this vehicle was brought to a halt once it was near the patient; perhaps with the help of bystanders and a large rock to put before the wheel so it would not roll.

On December 14, 1910 the "Receiving Hospital" became a department for the medical and surgical treatment of all persons brought to the City Jail or Receiving Hospital, and for the medical and surgical treatment of all policemen and firemen.

The first ambulance under the Receiving Hospital System was a 1914 Premier, and as near as I can remember at this time, it was manned by two police officers.

Through the years, one of the officers was replaced by a doctor or nurse. Sometime in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s [Update: in 1929] the remaining officer was replaced by an ambulance driver, and sometime later, the doctor or nurse was assigned inside the receiving hospital, and replaced on the ambulance by an attendant. The Ambulance Department was under the Receiving Hospital System. The starting position was Ambulance Driver, then up a step to Ambulance Attendant, then up another step to Senior Ambulance Attendant, and then up to Chief Attendant.

The Fire Department also had its doctor, and they transported some of the sick and injured. In the 1940’s or 1950’s, or both, the fire fighters who manned the Fire Department ambulances received a goodly portion of their training from the Receiving Hospital, as did the crews working out of the police stations. The Receiving Hospital continued "in service" training of the ambulance crews up to the last day, prior to their being transferred to the Fire Department. The learning by the ambulance crews from the doctors and nurses was a continuous thing, day by day, and hour by hour. If you wanted to learn, you could, and most of the time you didn’t need to ask.

The vehicles used to transport these persons in need were of many different designs and names. The 1914 Premier was a very classy looking vehicle. If it was half as nice inside as it was outside, the patient was truly traveling in luxury.

Some of the brands used over the years were the Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Pierce Arrow, Premier, and Studebaker, and in later years, the Fire Department had a Cadillac.

For many years the ambulances under the Receiving Hospital were assigned the designation of "G-unit," and this would be combined with the division number of the station where the ambulance was assigned. For instance, University Station ambulance would be G-3, because University was Division Three.


"G-6" at Hollywood Receiving Hospital,
next door to Hollywood Station


However, if an ambulance was stationed at other than a police station, it was assigned a number along with the "G," as you will note later in this article. On the police radio system, when one of the crew was identifying, they would give their designation and division area number of where they were stationed. Since the G-units responded to 98% of their calls using red lights and siren, if they heard another G-unit or patrol car going code three, they would radio in their location and direction of travel so that the other vehicle would be alerted, in cases where their paths might cross.

The ambulances and crews were stationed at police stations, and other locations for many years. The crews worked eight hour shifts, but it was a strange type of schedule to say the least. The equipment was maintained by the Police Department.

 

G-15 at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital>
1950's-era "G-15" at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital
near Pico & Figueroa


During this span of time, the motorized ambulances went through many paint schemes. They were black, white, gray, brown, and many shades and combinations of these colors. In 1970 when the vehicles were transferred to the Fire Department, they were metallic brown with white roofs on the rear, box-shaped, patient compartment.

In 1970 all ambulances and their crews were transferred over to the Los Angeles City Fire Department. The Fire Chief at that time was Raymond Hill.

The crews continued on eight hour shifts for some time, and then were switched to the same twenty four hour schedule as the fire fighters. Their uniform was changed from the police style uniform, to a white shirt with dark blue trousers. It is my understanding that now the paramedics use the same uniform as fire fighters, and in many cases, have become fire fighters.

Now, most, if not all of the ambulance crews are paramedics, and they are still working the twenty four hour shifts. These are comprised of: 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, 24 hours on duty, 24 hours off duty, 24 hours on duty, and then three days at 24 hours each are off duty.

At the present time [2001], the Fire Department has eighty three (83 ) ambulances, now called "rescue ambulances." Those ambulances handle an average of two hundred thousand (200,000 ) calls a year. This is quite a bit more than we did in those "good old days," which I remember well.

There are those who will say that the G-units were of poor service to the citizens of Los Angeles, and there are those who will say that it was the best service in most of the world.

When I came to work for the City on the G-units, I had been employed with a private ambulance company for just over seven years, and I was well trained. However, on my first shift on G-3, I started learning again. In the world of the private ambulance attendant or driver of the 1960’s, the G-units were more than one step above the rest.

This is not the end of their rich and sometimes troubled history, there are many more details to be added. This is just a start so that others can contribute their remembrances and facts; to put more leaves on the tree and give it body.


The following is a list of the G-Units in service during the late 1960’s, as well as a few earlier ones:

• G-1 Stationed at the Health Building on 1st street.
• G-2 Stationed at Lincoln Heights Receiving until moved to Rampart.
• G-3 Stationed at University Police Station
• G-4 Stationed at Hollenbeck Police Station
• G-6 Stationed at Hollywood Receiving
• G-7 Stationed at Wilshire Police Station
• *G-9 West L.A. Station
• G-11 Stationed at Highland Park Police Station
• G-12 Stationed at 77th Street Police Station
• G-13 Stationed at Newton Street Police Station
• G-14 Stationed at Venice Police Station
• G-15 Stationed at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital/ Police Station
• *G-16 Roving
• *G-17 Stationed at 3045 S. LaBrea (Spalding’s Mortuary) for 1 1/2 years.
• G-18 Stationed at Central Receiving Hospital, 1401 W. 6th. Street.

*G-9 was stationed at West L.A. Division 9 sometime in the 1940’s or 1950’s for a very short time.

*G-16 was a roving unit during the late 1960’s, and would go anywhere in the City. However, it did not go into the San Fernando Valley, because the Fire Department handled that area.

* G-17 was stationed at the Spalding’s Mortuary for a little over 1 1/2 years, during the late 1960’s. They responded to calls in the Baldwin Hills, and Westchester area.



Versions of this article have previously appeared in the LA Police Historical Society's newsletter, and the California Emergency Medical Services Authority "Trauma Files"