Here’s the early history of Dryden Ambulance as told by Brad Perkins.

In 1920 my Grandfather, Ernest M. Perkins, moved to Dryden, NY from Corning, NY having purchased the G.C. Sweet funeral business from Mr. Sweet’s son-in-law, Clarkson T. Davis. At that time there were hospitals in Ithaca, NY and Cortland, NY but no medical facility in Dryden which is located between those cities on NYS Rt. 13. Included with the purchase of the funeral business was the private residence of Mr. & Mrs. Davis.

Clarkson T. Davis was the son-in-law of G.C Sweet who we believe was the founder of the local funeral business. Galusa C. Sweet had contracted with Daniel P. Bartholomew for the construction of a home at 55 West Main Street. Interesting that 55 West Main Street is directly across the street from Mr. Bartholomew’s residence at 52 West Main St. Sweet and later Davis also operated out of a store front at 17 West Main Street where they built, buggies, carriages, and other horse drawn vehicles. They also built furniture and coffins. Sweet had died suddenly in 1904 leaving Davis to continue the business.

Included in the sale of the business to Ernest Perkins were two Ford Model T vehicles. I have no historical proof of it, but I can imagine that in good weather one of the Fords was being used as a hearse and the other used for general transportation. Also included was a horse drawn hearse and a smaller hearse to be used for children. A local man furnished a team of horses to Sweet and Davis for winter use and at other times when it would be impossible to use a motor vehicle. It is entirely possible that they also used the hearse to transport the sick and injured of the community to either of the above-mentioned hospitals. It is well known that this type of situation was a common practice in similarly sized communities in rural America.

In 1929 Ernest M. Perkins purchased a Dodge Brothers combination hearse/ambulance from the W.T. Pritchard automobile dealership in Ithaca. Just as it is today, there were companies that bought an incomplete vehicle chassis from one of the manufactures and assembled a custom body on the partial vehicle. The 1929 Dodge came to Dryden on the Lehigh Valley Railroad and was off loaded at the RR siding near the end of Elm Street. My father at age 7 was present. This vehicle was equipped to be a hearse when needed and likewise an ambulance ready to assist the community at all other times. I have the invoice in my possession for the payment to Mr. Pritchard.

I believe that the Dodge served the business and the community until 1951 when the funeral home purchased a 1951 Flexible combination hearse/ambulance built on a Buick Chassis. I remember this vehicle well. I remember being with my father when the vehicle was a hearse and when it was an ambulance. Also, there were times when my grandfather employed a hearse from the Wright Funeral Home of Cortland. It may be that in the mid 40’s when my father and uncle were in the US Navy that it was convenient to have the extra help and to have a more modern vehicle for funeral work. I cannot fully document this as a fact, but it seems reasonable since I can find evidence of this in my grandfather’s check book.

In 1960 the funeral business purchased a 1959 Eureka combination vehicle built on a Cadillac chassis. The same as with the Buick, I remember being with my Dad when the 1959 was being used as an ambulance and when used as a hearse. This was a huge and beautiful black vehicle. There were convertible floor panels that could be turned over to use rollers for the loading of a casket and then reversed to provide a flat floor for ambulance work. There was a revolving red light that was affixed to the roof for ambulance work and removed for funeral use.

In 1966 my Dad and I went to Rochester to trade the 1959 for a 1965 Miller-Meteor combination built upon a Cadillac chassis. He purchased it from the Beam-Mack company the salesman was Al Bliss. The 1965 was silver with a black roof it was attractive, powerful and well built. This car had 4 revolving red lights on the roof for ambulance duty. They were easily removed for funeral work. It also had the convertible floor panels and a bracket to hold fast the ambulance cot. Also, the rear windows would be covered with black removable panels for funeral work which were removed to reveal a red cross like image in the window for ambulance use. I had a learner’s permit during the use of this vehicle and would be allowed to drive it home after delivering the patient to the hospital, nursing home or private residence as the case might be. As a young teenager, I was similarly serving as an ambulance attendant nights, weekends and summers when the need would arise. I learned a lot from these experiences but sometimes would be scared as we responded to a shooting or a terrible auto accident. My dad seemed unchanged by these events. Later, I would learn from him that he also had emotions as these events would occur. He was good council to me. It was a lot for a teenager to be dealing with. Eventually I realized that he had been in similar situations with his father. My brother, three years older than I, had the same types of experiences with Dad.

There were other men that assisted with funerals and ambulance work. Some names that come to mind are Ed Smith, Cal Seavey, Al Homer, Dewitt Perkins, Ed Hill, Eddie Carpenter, Ray Liddington, Harry Pilling, Bill Jackson and others as the need would arise.

There were many automobile accidents in those times. Also requiring an ambulance were heart attacks, strokes, broken bones, people with mental infirmities and accidents or all types. There also were many times when we would transport someone home from the hospital if they were not able to ride in a regular sedan.

The 1965 M&M gave way in 1973 to a Cotner-Bevington Combination hearse/ambulance. This vehicle was built on an Oldsmobile chassis. Similar equipment and usage. It was white with a black roof and was a noticeable change from the black Dodge, Buick, Cadillac cars. The ambulance work was extremely hard on these cars. Winter weather with salted and cindered roads and garaging in a heated space promoted rust and corrosion. By 1975 it was obvious that were killing the 1973 Cotner-Bevington as it was not sturdy enough for the ambulance work. I was now a fulltime employee and making some decisions. So, I purchased a 1969 M&M “high roof” dedicated ambulance. It was blue with a white roof. Four red lights and one white and red light adorned the roof. I had the name PERKINS lettered in a large font on both sides. This was a powerful vehicle and would accommodate two patients if needed. It seemed good to have a vehicle that was 100% an ambulance. The number of calls increased each year and we covered these with Paul Perkins, me, Eric Stevens, Bryce Partridge, Bill Elliott, Kathy Elliot and at times David Clark and Michael Schnurle, Erma McMullen, Charles McMullen. A few years prior, NYS had required all ambulances to be registered with the NYS Health Dept., to have certain equipment and staffed with one or more Emergency Medical Technicians.

The local community college, Tompkins-Cortland Community College, or TC3 as a shortened name, was conducting EMT classes. The folks mentioned here took the course and became EMT’s. We were allowed by Medicare to charge the patient $35.00 for an ambulance trip to Ithaca or Cortland. Now (2021) the ambulance rate from Dryden to Ithaca or Cortland is over $1000.00.

It became clear to us that our situation was not sustainable. The last straw came when NYS would not allow the Town of Dryden to subsidize our service because Perkins Ambulance was a for-profit business. We met with the local fire department and the Town of Dryden to find a resolution to the situation. Out of that meeting came a decision that Perkins Ambulance would be closing its doors.

No firm date was set, but it was generally understood that we would not continue into 1977.

It was not a unanimous decision, but the Dryden Fire Department would begin to provide emergency ambulance service as soon as it could get organized to do so. Paul Perkins, me, Eric Stevens,Stephen Carpenter, Ed Hill, David Clark and Bob Arnold were already members of the fire dept.

On September 26, 1976, I drove the ambulance and all the equipment that we had to the fire station where it was met with as much disdain as enthusiasm. Perkins Ambulance had responded to its last call the day before.

I was elected as captain of the Emergency Squad that fall. David Clark was Assistant Captain. As more members realized that it was essential to the community the enthusiasm soon outweighed the disdain. Membership was opened to women. The EMT classes were now full of Dryden Fire Dept. members.

The Town of Dryden, with Clinton Cotterill as Town Supervisor, was committed to finance the operation and service was provided free of charge. We were fortunate that the town government cooperated so generously. Next, we took delivery of a new ambulance built by Yankee Coach upon a Dodge chassis. We were the envy of the other fire department ambulance squads as well as the commercial ambulances that operated in Ithaca and Cortland. Proudly we had the name Dryden Fire Department Ambulance lettered on it along with our business name, Neptune Hose Company No. 1, Inc.

I cannot remember the names of all the attendants, drivers and EMT’s but I can recall that Stephen Carpenter was the Fire Chief, Gregory Humphrey was Deputy Chief, and Donald Gilbert was First Assistant Chief. These men were confident and competent fire fighters. But they were now entering a new and unknown territory. It took a while, but they all came to the realization that ambulance service was a necessary thing that would bring more activity to the fire company. One huge topic was that the town had very adequately funded this new adventure. Fortunately, Clinton Cotterill was also a fire department member and the Town Supervisor.

By 1975 the fire department had moved into its own (and new) quarters at 26 North Street. The Fire Department had a great deal of pride in this new facility. This was understandable since much of the cost had been paid by department fund raising, Bingo profits and a great deal of sweat equity. Now suddenly they are in the ambulance business and funding is flowing freely from the town into the new adventure. The ambulance organization could step out and purchase new equipment, radios, a new ambulance, uniforms, and other necessary things that quite simply made some of the seasoned fire department members jealous. I remember conversations between those of us who were primarily ambulance folks and the seasoned fire dept. members. There were growing pains.

Slowly, nearly all the fire department members were on board with the ambulance. Members that had become inactive showed up. Women joined our ranks. The fire department benefited in many ways by having more members, more folks showing up at training, more activity including ambulance training sessions. A firetruck with personnel were now sent to all motor vehicle accidents to accompany the ambulance. The increased activity was turning out to be a good thing.

A few years later (I think 1980) we purchased a second ambulance due to increasing call volume.

It was a Yankee Coach and had been built in Massachusetts. When providing a free service there were some abusive situations when the call really did not need an ambulance. There is no way to prevent this from happening.

By 1980 Tompkins County was chosen to advance patient care by training EMT’s to the level of Advanced Emergency Technicians (AEMT). Soon many EMT’s were registering in classes at TC3 to obtain the advanced training. Early AEMT-3 personnel included myself, Michael Schnurle and Louise McGee. I remember going to the TC3 classes for 8 hours every Saturday for a year to obtain this training. The new training levels included EMT, AEMT-1, AEMT-2 and AEMT-3. Tompkins County received a grant to purchase a HEAR system that consisted of radios that could transmit an Electro-cardiograph to the hospital. We also were provided with battery operated defibrillators. A second advanced class of EMT’s was soon started at TC3 and included members, Douglas Cotterill, Eric Stevens, Fred Gentz, Patty Shanahan, Jerry Morrison and Robert Arnold. In 1989 we ordered a third ambulance and adopted a policy of purchasing an ambulance and retiring one every three years.

Ambulance building
As call volume increased, the need for additional space to house the ambulances, equipment storage and the desire for a bunking facility became necessary. The Board of Directors authorized the investigation of these needs and the possibility of an expansion of our facilities to relieve the crowding that was occurring. A building committee was appointed in 1988. I chaired the committee with members including Clinton Cotterill, Eric Stevens. We employed Egner & Associates Architects of Ithaca to help with the planning and drafting of project specifications and drawings. By 1989 we had sent the project out to bid and soon we engaged Morlando Construction to build a new 6000 Square foot addition on the North side of the present station.

In 1994 NYS was allowing the training for Paramedics. Again, classes were held at TC3 and after a while we had members that obtained the Paramedic training.

Soon after the construction of the ambulance addition it became necessary to incorporate the ambulance business. The name Dryden Ambulance, Inc. was now used, and the rigs were lettered to reflect the new name. Having incorporated, we now were able to have employees. The paramedics were paid now from our own funds. Previously they had been employees of the Town of Dryden and assigned to the ambulance.

Paid Personnel
Eventually the ambulance needed more drivers, EMT’s and Paramedics than the community could provide. Members of other fire departments were allowed joint membership with Dryden
Ambulance, Inc. This has been a good thing as it promotes interaction with the local fire departments that we are in a mutual aide agreement with. At some point it became necessary to hire a manager or director of the ambulance company.