CLAFLIN — When a tragedy unfolded 50 years ago on Memorial Day in Claflin, out of the sadness came a determination for the community to begin an ambulance service.
Claflin will pause for this Memorial Day to remember the life lost which spurred the city to action.
On a nice, sun-filled Memorial Day in 1961, three 14-year-old boys rode their bikes from Claflin, two miles west and one mile south, to a sandy area where the road was lower than the bank. And in the way of boys everywhere, they began digging in the sand as if to build a cave while eating the lunches they had brought.
The unspeakable happened when the sand collapsed, and the three boys were buried. One of the boys managed to free himself, and he frantically ran a mile to a nearby farm house for help.
At the time, the fire department had no ambulance, and when they made it to the site, they were able to save the life of the second boy, but the life of Gary Zorn was lost.
His life will be remembered this Memorial Day, May 30. Beginning at 10:30 a.m. at the Claflin Cemetery, the regular service sponsored by VFW Post 8668 will be held. Immediately following, a service will be held for Zorn. A reception will then be held at the Claflin Fire Department.
Retired Fire Chief Paul Oberle clearly remembers that day. "Nobody had Emergency Medical Technician Training," he said. It was normal at that time for there to be no training.
Nor did the city have an ambulance. However, the fire department had a resuscitator and managed to save the life of the second boy.
Spearheaded by Oberle, the community decided to do something about it. Unfortunately, the Zorn tragedy was not the only death to occur in the community that weekend.
Long-time Claflin resident Wanda Haney recalls that her uncle died that same weekend in Claflin. Her uncle, Ernest Dressler was a custom cutter who raised the bed on a dump truck. It came down on him, and he died immediately.
The community rallied and began raising money to buy an ambulance. Haney and a friend once dressed up as Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and passed the bucket for funds. White elephant sales were held.
"The community saw it like I did," said Oberle. "We needed something." The men also began training in first aid.
And so the Claflin Ambulance Service was started in 1961 by the volunteer fire department. According to a letter by Oberle, a 1956 Ford station wagon was purchased for $800 and converted into an ambulance.
"Everybody helped out," said Haney.
The equipment was much simpler than what is available today. "All we had was a cot," said Oberle. "The community supported us so good."
"This soon did not serve the purpose, so a 1966 station wagon was purchased and converted into an ambulance for $2800," said Oberle in his notes in the history of the department. "These ambulances (were) not purchased with tax money or money that it received from one big donation," said Oberle. "We did not charge for services for approximately 10 years."
Over the years, the city has purchased new equipment and ambulances.
When EMT training became available, the volunteers took that. The Claflin Fire Department and EMS was and is all-volunteer.
The ambulances of today have come a long way and offer advanced life support.
The current fire department covers 2500 residents and 216 squares miles. According to Assistant EMS Director Chris Steiner, the department runs two ambulances and is in search of volunteers, especially EMTs.