The history of emergency medical services, nationwide, is relatively short when comparing to other professions. EMS’ roots go back to the days when local funeral homes took on the responsibility of rushing to emergency scenes in station wagons, placing persons suffering from injury or illness, and transporting them to the closest hospital with limited or no care being given. That all changed when, in 1966, Congress passed the National Highway Safety Act, based on a report released by the National Academy of Sciences. This mandated the states to develop effective EMS systems or risk losing federal highway construction funds. In 1973, Congress then passed the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act, and EMS, as we know it today, was born.
The birth of Greenwood County EMS would occur a few years later. Our service was formed through a joint city and county effort, and began initial operations on July 1, 1975. At the time, GCEMS operated out of the Greenwood City Fire Department and consisted of one Paramedic and seven Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs). That was quite an impressive start, since Paramedics had shown up on the national scene just one-year prior. The philosophy for that start was to no longer just offer minimal care and then transport the patient to the emergency room, but rather, bring the ER to the patient. With the Paramedic certification came advanced skills and capabilities. On October 1, 1981, Greenwood County assumed total control of EMS operations. Mr. Willie J. Thomas, Jr. was appointed EMS Director and was given the responsibilities of leading a group of professionals, in a career that was still in infantile stages, into the new age. Mr. Thomas served that role admirably, and with great vision, for 25 years until his recent retirement in February, 2006. The first order of business, in 1981, was to strategically place EMS vehicles in stations throughout the county, in order to decrease response times. Vehicles were placed in Ware Shoals, Ninety-Six, and at the Greenwood County Courthouse. In the following years, personnel and vehicle numbers grew in an attempt to keep up with the rapid pace of emergency 9-1-1 calls.