Alamance County Rescue Unit
Established 1955, Chartered 1956
The Alamance County Recue Unit, Inc., is a volunteer emergency services agency serving Alamance and surrounding counties. We were organized in 1955 and chartered by the state of North Carolina on March 13, 1956, as the Graham Rescue Unit.
Graham Firemen William M. “Bobby” Simpson, Kenneth Evens, Jr., Thomas M. Haislip, Julius Thompson, JR., Alton J. Utley, and Marion “ Buster” Simmons met June 1955, in a back room of McClure Funeral Home on South Main Street, Graham, now the site of Bank of America, to discuss the need for an organization to assist people in :difficult” situations. They were concerned that there was no organization trained to extricate people trapped in automobile and industrial accidents, recover drowned victims, search for lost persons, and “other” rescue services
These six charter members collected information and, later, equipment, they would need to become a rescue squad. They also contacted other men who were willing to become part of the squad. McClure Funeral Home donated as old Cadillac combination hearse/ambulance which was used to transport equipment, not people. A boat and trailer were also donated. Simpson’s personal jeep was painted and lettered like the old ambulance, so squad members could use it when needed. Later other used vehicles were added, including an old military truck.
If a specialized tool was needed, it had to be made using whatever materials that could be found. An old leaf spring from a car, for example, was notched and sharpened so that it could be used as a crude cutting tool. Later, a member made a large “can opener” that was also used for cutting. (we still have both tools today.) devices used for dragging for drowned victims were also made by members.
Our name, Rescue UNIT was chosen instead of “squad” because the members wanted their name to reflect how they felt about their organization and how they wanted it to be – a group working in unity to accomplish a task.
The original intent was for the Rescue Unit to operate within the city limits of Graham. But they quickly found themselves being called to help all over the county, even across the state, since there were few rescue squads during the 1950s and early 1960s. sue to the change in service area, the charter was amended on September 7th 1972, to reflect the name most commonly used across the state, Alamance County Rescue Unit.
McClure Funeral Home was home to the Rescue Unit for about six years. The City of Graham leased the Rescue Unit land at the corner of McAden and Maple streets in 1960 for the squad to build their own building. Most of the building supplies were donated by local businesses. Several building professionals generously shared their expertise in completing the building in 1961.
Searching for drowning victims’ recovery, and extrication were primary functions of the Rescue Unit during the first decade of existence. In 1967 funeral homes ceased providing ambulance service when new federal and state regulations became law. A private firm then began ambulance service with a subsidy from the county. Three ambulances that were required by the contract were not enough to make up for the dozen that has been provided by all the funeral homes in the county. As a result, the Rescue Unit gradually and reluctantly became a major ambulance service provider.
As ambulance calls increased, so did the need for more training to meet the higher standards of pre-hospital care mandated by Federal and state guidelines. The Alamance County Rescue Unit was the first volunteer squad in the state to begin this new training, which was coordinated by Graham physician Dr. Robert McQueen, and was the second member certified as Emergency Medical Technicians -EMT’s- in the state.
By 1971 the number of requests for Rescue Unit ambulances had grown until it was no longer possible for volunteers to provide this vital service. The members had no choice but to cease responding to ambulance calls in the spring. Public response was immediate and positive. Concerned citizens led a fund-rising drive that quickly reached $50,000.00 that the members felt would take to operate ambulance services for one year. Four men were hired, and the Rescue Unit resumed ambulance service in July.
Alamance County citizens and businesses have longed supported the Rescue Unit. Both County Ford and the Sterns Ford family, Graham Motor Company and the Love family provided vehicles for use as ambulances at no cost to the Rescue Unit, until the county ambulance service was established. Southern Laundry owner Dan Horner cleaned the Rescue Unit’s laundry for free. But most importantly, individuals and families supported, and continue to support, the Rescue Unit, primarily through the annual fall fund raising campaign.
Ambulance calls continued to increase, and the Rescue Unit continued to receive donations from the public, but at a slower pace. By fall of 1972, Alamance County Manager D.J. Walker, Jr., realized that a change was needed and approached the Rescue Unit for assistance. The Rescue Unit agreed to Mr. Walker proposal to continue providing ambulance service with financial assistance from the county until Alamance County could establish its own ambulance department. Alamance County EMS began April 1st, 1973. The agreement called for the county to use the Rescue Unit’s building and equipment rent free until it could acquire there for itself. Rather than pay rent, the county would pay all expenses incurred with their use. The County EMS received delivery of its first three ambulances in June. 1974, and built its own facility in 2007.
Rescue Unit members continued to run ambulance calls, but in a different way. The members could work part-time as EMS employees on Saturdays and Sundays and continue to be a volunteer through the week. This system remained in place for about twenty years until call volume increased to the extent more ambulances and more certified Paramedics were needed. As a result, the county chose to hire full-time staff seven days a week. Today Rescue Unit members continue to back-up EMS but mostly on a basic EMT level.
As both Rescue Unit and the EMS department grew, more room was needed to house the growing fleet of vehicles, mostly EMS ambulances. The Rescue Unit raised funds during the early 1990s to purchase two lots adjacent to their building at the corner of McAden and Maple streets and built a garage large enough to house the Rescue Units two ambulance, and two crash trucks, a utility vehicle, and four boats.
During the 1970s and 1980s specialized equipment and a more scientific approach evolved for rescue services. Each situation needs to be evacuated and the approached in a systematic way so that rescue task were performed the most effective and safest easy possible. The North Carolina Association of Rescue and Emergency Medical Services, the North Carolina Department of Insurance, and the Office of State Fire Marshal worked to develop rescue standards during the 1990s. This committee, which primarily meet in Graham, recognized that different areas of the state had different needs and finances would be a major factor facing each department. The proposed standards were approved in 1999 and voluntary implementation began in 2004.
The Alamance County Rescue Unit meets these new training and equipment requirements, both now and then. The Unit is certified as a “Heavy Rescue” provider, as well as for dive team surface and swift water rescue, ambulance EMS provider, high angle rescue, and agricultural rescue. A K-9 team is another service provided by Rescue. Rescue services change continually. Technology and techniques improve the ability to perform the various tasks needed. Thankfully, rescue calls do not occur every day, every week, every month, or even every year. But the Rescue Unit rescue technicians and EMTs must continually train to be prepared to perform any task that may arise at any time.
During our more than sixty years of service the Alamance County Rescue Unit has responded to various needs of the community. It is impossible to count the number of people that our members have helped through our rescue and ambulance services. There have been hundreds of Rescue Unit members, from six in 1955 to more than 60 today, counting junior and senior members, who have given talents have helped all through the Alamance and surrounding counties. But our backbone has been the people and businesses that have provided and continue to provide the financial support that we need so we could and can serve the public.