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Lou Farah Classic Ambulance Restoration

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05/01/2016

Louis C. Farah is a paramedic in his 42nd year of service with Ventura Division AMR. He is also an expert in vintage ambulance restoration. In an impressive parallel to his rescue work as a paramedic, Lou sees an opportunity for the resuscitation of emergency vehicles and breathes new life into these once thriving patients.
 
His fascination with ambulances began when he was a child. “When I was five years old, there was an accident in front of my house.” Lou precisely describes the ambulance that arrived at the scene: “The massive vehicle was a 1957 GMC Suburban that had been converted into a rescue ambulance. Painted fire engine red from top to bottom it featured the official seal of the City of Los Angeles, two solid burning red lights, a Beacon Ray revolving light on the roof, and the number 60 in gothic script on the hood.”
 
Lou restores these vehicles because he drove them as a young paramedic. “Little by little,” he says, “I’d find another. They would retire an ambulance, and I would look at it every day.” He started collecting equipment - Biocom radios, Datascope portable heart defibrillators, E and J oxygen resuscitators, Plano 747 drug boxes - in anticipation that he would eventually obtain the ambulances.
 
Not only do the ambulances have personalities, Lou says, each company has a personality. “The vehicles are a connection to the people who worked there. It’s about more than just their vehicles. There are memories associated with each ambulance. You knew the sound of each one. You knew who was coming.”
 
Lou believes the single biggest advancement in emergency medicine was when they “took the hospital out on the street. With this came the need for equipment and larger vehicles.” Prior to developments in military combat medicine and prehospital care during the Korean and Vietnam wars, ambulances served merely as transportation. The ambulance “was an outgrowth of the hearse - the only vehicle at that time that could transport people in supine position.”
Since no emergency care was given in ambulances, 1960s phone books advertised features such as air conditioning, smooth rides and Cadillac fleets - “you call, we haul, that’s all.” However, with the late 1960s came safety regulations, ambulance specifications, EMTs and paramedics. Cadillacs were replaced with more affordable, spacious and maneuverable Ford and Chevy van ambulances.

The custom nature of the old passenger car ambulances is what fascinates folks at car shows, school demos and parades. Lou says people mention Ghostbusters because they’re not used to seeing a car as an ambulance. “Young EMTs have never seen them, older people have distinct memories arise, and kids are like, ‘What is this?’”

In addition to using the ambulances for parades, film sets and auto shows, Lou drives them in fundraisers such as the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation charity event. The foundation hosts a Code 3 Relay. California Highway Patrol escorts fire trucks and ambulances station to station to pick up checks for the foundation.

As for the emotion involved in restoration, Lou says, “When you first discover the car, you are elated. Then reality sets in as you start the restoration process. It takes months to finish the car due to delays in getting parts, mechanics finishing repairs, picking the right paint colors, etc. But every time you find something and fix it yourself, there's a lot of satisfaction in knowing that you were the one that discovered the issue and fixed it. Once the car is done, you step back and say ‘wow,’ just like everybody else that is going to see the car when it's done. It's like driving a new car home from the dealership.”
And what is Lou working on now? Well, he’s finishing up the ’57, the first ambulance he ever saw: “Four years ago, I found that exact ambulance that was in front of my house when I was a five-year-old boy. It’s in my fleet now!”
 
Louis C. Farah is in his 42nd year as a paramedic and is with the Ventura division of AMR. Lou has an extensive collection of vintage ambulances and is the executive director of Professional Cars International, an international car club that celebrates ambulances based on a passenger car chassis. Lou is a historian, collector and authority on the subject, as well as the editor and publisher of Professional Car Collector Magazine. Lou’s autobiography Sound of Mercy provides an action-packed journey of his life in the field.


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Now in Lancaster, California, this 1928 Studebaker was owned by Goodhew Ambulance Company. It was formerly a hearse and features coffin rollers, and an all wood body and wheels.

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This 1972 Cadillac was originally part of Cadillac Ambulance in Contra Costa County, California and is now shared by the NorCal Operations, it is used in parades and by the Honor Guard. Over the years it has served as a primary 911 ambulance, courier vehicle, long distance transport, and honor guard, funeral and parade ambulance.

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The 1913 Model T was a bread truck at Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. The owner of Shepard Ambulance, Lee Cox, purchased the unit in the early 60’s and had it refurbished to look like an ambulance. It features 24 karat gold leaf lettering, wooden spoke wheels, gravity-fed fuel system, and magneto and crank starter.

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This 1968 Cadillac was Shepard’s last Cadillac ambulance then was semi-retired as a long distance trip car. There was no smoother ride for the patient than the Cadillac.
 
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This 1961 Cadillac was originally restored by Abbott EMS and used for parades and special occasions.  It recently relocated to AMR Southern Mississippi.  It is a Eureka Combination with original ferno coffin rollers, beacon, siren, ferno cot and fasteners.

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This 1977 Cadillac built by Superior was originally owned by Physicians Ambulance Service in Northern California, was bought by Professional Ambulance, and was ultimately purchased and restored by Lou Farah who is with the AMR Ventura division. AMR’s Dave Austin drove Fred Astaire in the ambulance in a movie called A Family Upside Down.

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The 1926 Dodge Brothers is an exact replica of the ambulances used by Buck Ambulance in Portland. It was originally used as a hearse and is now driven in parades.

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Purchased new by Buck Ambulance and used in Portland for many years, this 1947 Cadillac is repainted but in otherwise original condition.

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Formerly with the Seattle division, this 1950 Pontiac Barnette Ambulance is now in Spokane. It is unrestored, has 22,000 original miles and sports the original functioning lights and siren.  It was commissioned as a standby ambulance during the construction of the McNary Dam on the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. 

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This 1978 Cadillac was purchased by retired fleet director Anthony Colaiacovo for community relations and parades. It was originally a hearse and was converted to an ambulance. It is currently with AMR in Connecticut.