Buck Ambulance.Oregonís paramedic pioneers revealed in documentary posted on 07/01/2019
Denise O’Halloran, a paramedic currently teaching American
Heart Association courses at Portland's Cascade Training Center, had the idea
in 2012 to put together a documentary about the first female paramedics in the
area. But when she started interviewing those early pioneers, she realized that
there was a bigger story to tell, not just about those women who broke into the
field, but how Portland and its privatized ambulance service was on the cutting
edge of emergency medical services and the evolution of the industry.
“We had no idea that’s where the project was going at that
time,” O’Halloran said. “One of the things we were struck by was how
freewheeling Portland was.”
With the help of Mountain resident Pat McAbery, owner of
Sight and Sound Services in Welches, “The Rose City Experiment,” captures the
transition from men in cars that would simply bring a person to a hospital to
both men and women utilizing advanced life saving techniques in the field.
The pair interviewed nine subjects for more than 18 hours to
come up with the documentary, which clocks in at 54 minutes and is available to
rent or buy on Amazon (Prime membership is not required). The film is done in
chapter format, which focus on aspects of the evolution of ambulance service,
the challenges of breaking in as a woman, the different vehicles used, the
lessons learned following the 1978 crash of a DC-8 airplane in Gresham and
The documentary premiered last fall at the Kennedy School in
Portland, with approximately 250 people in attendance. O’Halloran noted that
those people who were part of the story are not the type that would typically
promote their accomplishments, but they were grateful for the documentary
“I think these folks never dreamed this story would be
told,” said O’Halloran, who started her career at Alpine Ambulance in Sandy.
“One said it was the retirement party they never had. It was a delightful,
Notable moments in the documentary include the first cardiac
save in the country, when a patient was revived after going into cardiac arrest
(credited to a Portland area team on Dec. 23, 1969), reviving the owner of Buck
Ambulance, Ben Buck, in February 1970 and reviving Portland’s mayor, Terry
McAbery, who is also a firefighter/paramedic for the Gresham
Fire Department, got an early start into the industry, as he would tag along
with his mother on private calls on the Mountain at the age of seven. And he
noted that while the life-long responders enjoyed the documentary, spectators
who did not have a background in the industry were also sucked in.
“I think it is a story that you don’t have to know EMS
(Emergency Medical Services) to understand,” McAbery said.
O’Halloran added that the documentary helps show the wherewithal
and can-do attitude that some of the “cowboy” doctors had to help create the
system we now enjoy.
“It’s not just an EMS story, it’s an Oregon story,” she
A trailer for the documentary is available at https://youtu.be/3YEe12V-o1E
By Garth Guibord/MT