Prior to 1958, emergency medical transportation and limited very basic first aid was provided by the Town police Department. The Town maintained an ambulance that was staffed by a patrol officer, who was pulled from their patrol post to operate the ambulance when it was called for. Around 1958, the now defunct Ashton Fire District began operating a volunteer staffed ambulance. The ambulance was intended for medical responses within the district but was made available for response into the other four also now defunct fire districts (North Cumberland, Berkeley, Valley Falls and Cumberland Hill). Residents of the Ashton Fire District where not charged for use of the ambulance, but out of district residents were charged a fee for its use. If a Town resident was unable to pay the fee, the Town would cover the cost of the fee.
In June of 1977, a referendum titled “Plan B” was proposed to the Cumberland taxpayers. The plan, which provided for the Town to subsidize the salary of one full-time firefighter per each independent fire district and seven EMTs to provide fulltime staffing of the Ashton Fire District ambulance, was approved. In April of 1978, those hired under “Plan B” started their full-time employment. In 1979, taxpayers voted to have the Town assume financial responsibility for the operation of a full-time ambulance and a line item was created in the municipal budget. The seven EMTs hired under Plan B became Town employees and the Town took ownership of the ambulance, a 1976 Modular, which had been operated by the Ashton Fire District. In an agreement with the Ashton Fire District, the newly created service operated out of the Ashton Fire Station located at 1530 Mendon Road. Dana Jones, one of the seven EMTs hired under “Plan B”, was given the rank of Lieutenant. A “Rescue Ad hoc committee” was created to provide guidance and oversight of the new Department. The committee membership included Raymond Vallee, Robert Jolly and Robert Crawley. Raymond Vallee served at the Chair of the committee.
On August 19, 1981, by Town Council approval of an ordinance, the “Rescue Service” became a Town Department. Also, in 1981, an eighth member was added to the Department. In 1982, members upgraded their level of EMS certification to the former EMT-Intermediate level. This certification level added the use of the pneumatic anti-shock garment (PASG) aka military anti-shock trousers (MAST), use of the esophageal orbturator airway (EOA) to their scope of practice (It should be noted that both skills have long since been removed from EMS practice). In the fall of 1982, all eight members of the Department began training to obtain EMS certification at the EMT-Cardiac level. Certification at this level would add defibrillation, basic electrocardiography, intravenous therapy, and basic cardiovascular pharmacology (primarily first line resuscitation medications) to the Department’s scope of practice. On December 28, 1982, the Department became the second northern Rhode Island EMS agency to provide prehospital advanced life support, operating at the EMT-Cardiac level.
For several years after the Town take over, the service continued to operate out of the Ashton Fire Station while several locations were considered as a headquarters location. Both the former Cumberland School Administration building located at 1512 Mendon Road and the former Berkley School located on Martin Street were considered. In January of 1984, the Department established headquarters at the former Cumberland School Administration building. For a short time, the ambulance continued to be garaged at the Ashton Fire station, while the crews occupied their living quarters at the new headquarters building. Once a two-bay garage added to the rear of the structure at 1512 Mendon Road, the ambulance was moved to the new headquarters location.
In May of 1985, the Rhode Island Department of Health recognized and began issuing licensure at the Paramedic level. At this point, the Department had two Paramedics on staff who were hired subsequent to the attrition of some of the original members. The Town immediately supported the concept of providing care at the nationally recognized Paramedic level and the Department was the first EMS agency in the State to do so. Currently CEMS is the only service in the state to boast an all Paramedic level staff. Also, in May of 1985, members credentialed at the EMT-Cardiac level participated in training to add the extended skill of endotracheal intubation to their scope of practice. Unlike today at the EMT-Cardiac level, credentialing for this extended skill required completion of an anesthesia clinical experience. In November of 1989, a second response vehicle was added. This unit was satellite posted during daytime hours at the Valley Falls Fire District located 555 High Street. In October of 1999, additional personnel were hired to allow operation of the second asset 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the Fall of 2018, significant Town charter language changes relating the Department were approved. The Department name was changed from the Department of Rescue Service” to the Department of Emergency Medical Services. The name change was significant as the new name aligns with the Department’s mission profile
In April of 2019, construction of the John J. Partington Public Safety Complex was completed. The Department relocated its administrative offices and second ALS ambulance to the new complex.