Our history

Before our squad was founded in 1960, the only way a local citizen could get to a hospital was to call friends or a local funeral home who transported you to the hospital in a hearse (they had no first-aid training either!). The fire department had an ambulance but they only transported smoke inhalation victims.

In 1958, a building under demolition near Court Square collapsed suddenly, trapping a passerby in the rubble. Joel Cochran and Ted Patterson, two citizens with first-aid training, rescued the man and decided that a local rescue squad was needed. They, along with John Pannell and Charlie Rausch, started collecting equipment and began teaching first-aid classes in order to establish a rescue squad.

On November 15th, 1960, our squad started providing first-aid services to the citizens of Charlottesville and Albemarle County. We had 42 members, 40 men and two women. Our fund drive goal that year was $20,000 and we had two carry-all van ambulances as our fleet, along with three station wagons owned by squad members as the reserve fleet. The vans were sent to a local body shop where the roofs were reinforced to support two extra stretchers from the roof, rear bumper steps were installed, and other work done according to CARS specifications. The first call run was on November 17th, in which a pedestrian was hit by a car. The running schedule comprised of around two to three-person teams at home, dispatched by Joel Cochran’s secretary. The first month of operations saw us answer 260 calls, totally 853 calls by the end of the year. Initial training of prospective members included a 26-hour Red Cross basic and advanced first aid course followed by a “doctor’s course” where Dr. David Strider taught advanced classes in obstetrics, burns, chest and abdominal injuries, general surgery, and other fields over an eight week period. There were no Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) at that point!

In 1962, two school buses filled with high school students from Saltville collided sending one down a 30 foot embankment along Rt. 250 and Barracks Road, resulting in 38 injuries. CARS added a “crash truck” and scuba diving unit to the services we provided. Additionally, CARS also won five first place trophies at the VAVRS State Convention.

In 1963, our squad building was built by R.E. Lee for $92,340. It would cost over $1 million to replace it today. The land the present building sits on - initially an old swamp - was leased by the City for the cost of $1 per year. That same year, day dispatching services were moved to a local telephone answering service.

In 1965, the building had been paid for by donations much to the delight of Joel, who had personally guaranteed the original building loan.

In 1970, CARS was the first rescue squad in the state to require its members to be certified in CPR.

In 1971, CARS was the first squad in the state to offer advanced life support (ALS) services. One of our first patients was President Lyndon Johnson who suffered a heart attack while he was visiting his daughter and son-in-law, Chuck Robb, here at UVA.

In 1973, CARS started “stand alone” ALS coverage by utilizing a telemetry radio to call the UVA Coronary Care Unit (CCU) for ALS orders and advice. The very first “bio-phone” telemetry radio was sold to the TV show Emergency and the next unit off the assembly line was sold to CARS.

In 1973, we had 60 members and answered 3,200 calls for service. Women were required to leave the building after 8PM for fear that the public might think a scandal was afoot.

In 1974, Dr. Richard Crampton, a professor of medicine at UVA, published an article that Charlottesville had a 26% drop in pre-hospital coronary death rates and a 62% decline in ambulance coronary death rates three years after CARS began its ALS program. The percentages remain as records to this day. Scottsville Volunteer Rescue Squad (SVRS) was started in 1974, as well.

In 1975, Thacker Construction built an addition to our building, which included three bays, two bedrooms, and a large meeting room. The addition cost $153,924.

In 1976, CARS became the first squad in the state to require all of its member to be trained as EMTs.

In 1977, Newsweek magazine named CARS one of the top four rescue squads in the country. The other three were the Seattle Fire Dept., the Chicago Fire Dept., and the Los Angeles County Fire Dept., where the then popular TV show Emergency was filmed. Our fund drive that year was $125,000 and we responded to 4,800 requests for service. That year, CARS taught nearly 3,000 citizens how to perform CPR.

In 1978, the passenger train Southern Crescent derailed in Nelson County resulting in six deaths and 40 injuries. Local and mutual-aid response was provided by over 15 rescue squads from the area. In September, Western Albemarle Rescue Squad (WARS) was later established.

In 1982, our Berkmar substation opened as the result of the pending annexation suit between the City and the County. The cost of the building was $150,000 and the land was donated by the County.

In 1983, we stopped the practice of sending electrocardiograms (ECGs) to UVA CCU for interpretation and patient care instructions. In the 90’s, many systems discovered that to be state-of-the-art in coronary care, money must be invested. For most of the late 70’s and early 80’s, we did this, only to find that it did not make much of a difference to patient morbidity or mortality rates. As such, the practice was stopped.

In 1985, CARS formed an all-female EMT Competition team (the only one in the state) and took second place in 1987. In 1992, we placed third place out of around 80 teams.

In 1986, 1988, and 1995, CARS won first place in the state in the VAVRS ALS competition.

In 1989, CARS was named the busiest volunteer rescue squad in the country by Firehouse magazine.

In 1989, CARS was named EMS Agency of the Year by the Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services. That year, we answered 7,560 requests for service.

In 1991, CARS was featured on the national TV show Rescue 911. CARS rescued a victim who fell 80 feet off a cliff and lived to tell the story.

In 1992, a 54-vehicle accident on fog-shrouded Afton Mountain resulted in two deaths and 42 injured. This incident tested the mettle of regional rescue squads.

In 1993, CARS formed the first all-volunteer technical rescue team in the country. The team went on to perform several difficult rescues in this community and was featured in a national trade magazine in the spring.

In 1994, CARS won first place in the State VAVRS Rescue competition. That year saw our call volume climb to over 10,000 requests for service.

In 1995, CARS won first place in the State VAVRS ALS and Water Rescue competitions. We were also one of the first rescue squads in the country to start up their own website on the Internet.

In 1997, CARS won first place in several VAVRS competitions, including cot races and water rescue.

In 1998, CARS sent two members to Germany for one week to observe how paramedics in that country provide emergency services. That year, we also won first place in the State VAVRS Water Rescue competition. We also had a 65-vehicle accident on Afton Mountain that resulted in 40 injured and was followed just three weeks later by a 18-vehicle accident.

In 2000, CARS started painting the ambulances in a new color scheme called “German Red.” This new color scheme was a very bright florescent orange and was designed to be more visible to drivers. We were the second department in the country to use this design. In that same year, CARS began the area’s first bicycle medic team and was also featured on the cover of The Virginia Fire News magazine.

In 2002, the National Association of EMS Physicians (NAEMSP) awarded CARS the Rural EMS System of the Year at their annual convention. We also started allowing four UVA student-members to live in our Berkmar substation in exchange for manning an ambulance.

In 2004, CARS was once again named the busiest all-volunteer unit in the nation by Firehouse magazine. We upgraded our defibrillators to the new Phillips MRx 12-lead cardiac monitor/defibrillators. Chosen by the manufacturer as the first rescue squad in the U.S. to use this device, CARS was able to provide the best possible care to patients who are experiencing cardiac problems, such as heart attacks. CARS won first place in the State VAVRS ALS and Rescue competitions. We also won Website of the Year Award.

In 2005, CARS collaborated with Albemarle County Department of Fire Rescue (ACFR) to provide a unit for precepting their personnel. This allowed for an additional medic unit to be staffed daily from Monday to Thursday.

In 2007, a study commissioned by the Mayor of Charlottesville found that ALS unit response time was nine minutes or less more than 90% of the time, which exceeds the recommendation of the National Fire Protection Association.

In 2008, CARS has become the first EMS agency in Central Virginia and one of the first in the mid-Atlantic region to offer the most effective drugs available to counter the effects of cyanide poisoning.

In 2012, CARS was the first agency in the region to introduced two LUCAS devices for automatic chest compressions during CPR to ensure consistent, high quality care.

In 2013, CARS contracted with Active911 to improve digital dispatch notification and response efficiency.

In 2016, King Vision video laryngoscopes were acquired to improve patient care by providing high performance visualization capabilities for airway management.

In 2018, CARS added an electronic staffing platform to more efficiently manage and track volunteer shifts and certifications. CARS also started being part of the City's cost recovery program, which allows CARS to bill insurance companies for its services. This gives CARS a reliable income stream to ensure it can provide excellent clinical care.

In 2022, CARS began utilizing prehospital point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) imaging using the ButterflyIQ platform to improve paramedics' diagnostic capabilities and improve patient outcomes.