At the January 16th, 2023 General Meeting of the Cloyne and District HIstorical Society, David Savigny spoke on the history of the Northern Emergency Organization (NEO) – the forerunner to NAVAS (Northbrook and Area Volunteer Ambulance Services). David’s presentation is below.
“A little while back, Shirley called and asked me to come and talk about the beginnings of the Northern Emergency Organization. It was formed in the mid-sixties but I’d like to go back a little further and give you an idea of what the health care and communication systems were like in this area.
Seventy four years ago today my parents lived in a farm on Hwy. 41 just south of the Flinton tum. They had moved there two years prior with their two year old daughter. My dad ran a radio and appliance sales and repair business and raised a few sheep. His workbench was a door propped up on orange crates. On the wall in the back room where my dad had his shop was one of the old wooden phones with a crank on the side. It was on a party line with other businesses and homes. Everyone had a special ring. Ours was 1 long and 3 short. I think we were on line #3. So, our number was 3 ring 1 3. If someone on our line wanted to call the Savigny’ s they’d pick up the earpiece and if ask if anyone was already on the line by saying “using?”, then hold the earpiece cradle down and give the crank a long tum and 3 short turns. If someone on another line wanted to call they’d give the crank one long tum which would alert the operator in the phone exchange in Northbrook to pick up. They’d simply ask the operator for the Savigny’ s or say “3 ring 1, 3 and the operator would ring the number and connect the two lines on the switchboard.
I expect you’ve all seen the switchboard in the museum. Of course anyone on a party line could hear every ring that was made and would know who was being called, and I suppose, pick up and listen if they were nosey. So, 74 years ago today my mother was quite pregnant and expecting her second child in about a week. On the day they were expecting the big event to happen my dad called the phone office in Northbrook and asked the owner if he’d leave the switchboard on overnight in case they needed to call Dr. McCue in Tweed. The night came and went and I didn’t arrive. I guess Dad thought they’d leave the switchboard on again the next night or else he was too embarrassed about the false alarm the night before to ask again. In any event, late in the evening of January 23rd the call had to be made. Dad went to the phone and made the 1 long crank and got no answer. He desperately kept cranking the single ring hoping to get the operator. As luck would have it the pub in the cellar of the Kaladar Hotel was on the same party line as our house. The rings of course could be heard by everyone on our line. The policeman from the Kaladar station was spending a little time in the pub that evening and either got tired of hearing the phone ring or realized someone needed help. He picked up, heard my dad’s dilemma and went to his car and radioed the Belleville detachment. They were able to call Dr. McCue in Tweed. The doctor called his nurse and they set off in the dark with whatever Dr’s bring to home births plus their own linens, which the nurse had laundered after a birth earlier that day. The linens weren’t quite dry so the nurse held them out the car window to finish drying them. Some fifty years later my mother handed me the Dr’s bill which included travel and the nurse’s fee. The total was $29 and change.
In the 1950’s there was a public nurse by the name of Ethel Tingley who served the Northbrook area. She became good friends with my parents. Ting, as we called her, liked to fish and often came, with her mother, to stay with us. By the 60’s we lived at Story Lake and on one visit in 1965 the elderly Mrs. Tingley had a heart attach at our house. An ambulance was called but it had to come all the way from Belleville. By the 1960’s my dad was in the real estate business. One of his first sales was to a Dr. Spaulding who bought a lot on Mazinaw Lake from Merrill Denison. Dr. Spaulding kindly came and attended to Mrs. Tingley. Someone produced a old, small war surplus helped revive her. The ambulance arrived, driven by the owner, Len Steele. Mrs. Tingley died on the way to Belleville.
My parent’s were good friends with John and Barbara Lester. They had bought a property on thhe south end of Mazinaw Lake and opened up a marina. They often got together on Saturday night and played bridge. On a Saturday night after Mrs. Tingley’s death they talked about the possibility of training local citizens in first-aid and providing some means of transport to the hospital. This was the beginning of the N.E.O.
Len Steele came up to a meeting where the foundation of the Northern Emergency Organization was discussed. Over the years Len helped with the supplying of equipment and the loan of oxygen tanks. The Red Cross was contacted and they sent an instructor to the Cloyne hall where numerous volunteers were trained, some later becoming first-aid instructors themselves. I was still in high school so I didn’t become and instructor until later on. First-aid classes were offered on a fairly regular basis mostly in Cloyne but also in other villages. I guess the object was to get as many people as possible trained in basic first-aid.
One really fun thing we got to do was casualty simulation. A few of us were trained in making up people to look like they had various injuries or conditions for use at first aid classes. We were given kits that included things like embalmers wax, skin coloured plasticine, fake congealed blood that had the consistency of peanut butter, theatrical make-up and the tools to apply them. For example, to make a third degree bum on a hand, you’d redden the hand with make-up, apply a layer of Vaseline, cover it with airplane glue and when the glue dried, apply some black make-up, sprinkle on some black powder, spritz on some fake liquid blood, then peel up the glue here and there to make it look like fried skin.
First degree burns were easy, just redden the skin. For someone in shock we used grey and white theatrical make-up. For an imbedded object, like glass, we’d use embalmers wax (or plasticine) with the glass stuck in it, smooth the wax or plasticine out over the skin and colour it with make-up to match the victims skin then apply a little fake blood. We had a recipe for the liquid fake blood. It included laundry starch, red, yellow food colouring and fast-teeth which was a powder that people used for holding false teeth in. We also did things like compound fractures, bloody head wounds and frost bitten toes.
After a few years of practice I designed an amputated arm and later an amputated leg that included squeeze bulbs to pump out the fake blood. Going back to the first call I remember the N.E.O. being involved in was a head on crash at the north end of Cloyne. I wasn’t trained yet so I was on traffic control at the north end putting up flares and stopping traffic. At that time we didn’t have much equipment and the patient was takenout on a door in place of a stretcher.
As time went on, money was raised and equipment such as backboards, dressings, slings, and splints were acquired. We also had what was called an Ambu Bag. It had a mouth piece and a squeeze bag to give a patient air or air plus oxygen and there was also a foot operated vacuum pump to clear out airways. We also bought a skimmer which was a metal sleigh to pull behind a snowmobile. It’s shaped kinda like a half a pea pod and a back board nicely fits on it.
Members of N.E.O. carried fairly well-equipped first-aid kits in their cars. Mine as in a WW2 ammo box. One of the most memorable calls I as on was an injury that occurred at a homemade planning mill along Hwy: 506. The mill was powered by an old model T engine. Power went out to the various pieces of equipment by shafts, pullies and belts that stood maybe a foot or so above the ground. The operators had to be careful and step over these hazards. The pullies were wooden and held together by nuts and bolts. One had been repaired and a bolt stuck out farther than needed.The elderly owner got too close and the repaired wooden pulley with the long bolt caught his pant leg and instantly snapped his leg in two below the knee. Fortunately, his helper that day was Garnet Martin, a neighbour. Gamet saved his life by tying a cord tightly around the stump of his leg. Never-the-less he lost a lot of blood and was barely conscious when my dad and I got there. The break was so complete I remember my dad saying he could have finished the amputation with one snip with a pair of scissors. Dad drove him to the hospital in his station wagon with the back seats folded down. The patient’s wife was in the front seat and I was squatting in the back applying oxygen. He had lost so much blood I couldn’t get a pulse. In the hospital the man’s wife explained to the doctor his age, recent state of health and whatever meds he was on. Sometime later after the doctor had been working on the guy for a while his wife said to us “Oh dear I forgot to tell the doctor about his high blood pressure”. She went over to the doctor and we could hear him laugh and say, “High blood pressure .Not any more”.
As time went on ambulances started to come into the area more frequently. For example, by about 1968 there was an ambulance base in Madoc. Gradually N.E. 0 . ‘s functions shifted away from transporting people to the hospital towards prepping patients for the ambulance. We would get calls from dispatch or the O.P.P. or if we knew of an accident or a medical emergency we’d call dispatch.
Sometimes at first-aid classes we’d have instructional movies. Some were based on car accidents. They’d show the actual smashed car and victims. Then they’d recreate the scene before the accident using a similar car and actors. Then they’d show how to get them out of the wreck and perform whatever first-aid procedures that were required.
The movie I remember best was not a car accident but a scene about three men who were working in the bush in the wintertime. One worker was cutting a tree when a dead limb broke off and hit him in the back and head. Two attendants arrived. The movie showed how they assessed the patient and put on a cervical collar. With a suspected back injury it’s necessary to keep the spine in a straight line. Two first-aiders can’t do this by themselves so they instructed the other two workers how to help with a traction lift. In a traction lift one person pulls on the head, one on the feet and the helpers lift in the middle, keeping the patients back in a straight line then move him onto a backboard. They then towed the patient out of the bush behind a snowmobile.
The very next day we got a call for an accident in Bon Echo Park. Barbara Lester and I went and it turned out that three men where working in the bush and one had been hit in the back and head by a dead limb that fell on him while he was cutting a tree. It was one of the easiest calls I’ve been on. We just had to follow exactly what they did in the movie we’d seen the night before. We towed the patient out on the skimmer behind my snowmobile to meet up with the ambulance.
One other incident I’d like to tell you about was a head on collision just south of Hwy. 506. A Volkswagen station wagon loaded with skiers coming back from Calabogie was hit by a pick-up truck. There were no fatalities thank goodness but there were a lot of victims. N.E.O. volunteers with the help of bystanders started prepping them before the ambulance arrived. The ambulance from Madoc was a big Pontiac. It looked kind of like the Ghostbusters vehicle. I was helping the attendant with one of the more critical cases when he asked a bystander to pass him a catheter. The guy had a blank look on his face so I said “It’s that skinny plastic tube over there”. The attendant said to me “Okay, when we get loaded up you’re coming with us.”
In the back ofthe Pontiac we had two stretchers strapped in over head and two on the floor plus me and the attendant. In the front seatwas the driver and two ambulatory patients. We went to Belleville via Madoc. A few miles south of Madoc the ambulance lurched sideways and a sort of grinding noise came from underneath. With the excessive weight, the back axle had shifted sideways and the wheel was rubbing on the inside of the fender. We had to wait on the side of the road for two units to come up from Belleville to finish the trip.
As ambulance bases were established in first Denbigh and later in Northbrook some of us first aiders signed on as volunteer ambulance drivers/attendants. I can’t recall all the people who were involved in starting and supporting the Northern Emergency Organization. There were dedicated instructors and capable first aiders who responded to calls . Arnold Flieler who was a longtime scout leader taught first aid to his troops and did his own casualty simulation. Some volunteers were nurses. Ones I recall were Winnie Hatton, Joan Flieler, Shirley Blaney and Tish Butson. Their medical knowledge and experience was a great asset at first-aid classes and when we were on calls. Like the time Winnie Hatton delivered twins in the O.P.P. station in Kaladar.
With ambulances in Denbigh and Northbrook the need for the NE0 really just evaporated, but it was a vital and important service for the area in 60’s, 70’s and early 80′ s. I’d like to thank Shirley for asking me to come today. If you have any questions I’ll do my best to answer them.”
David K. Savigny, January 17, 2023