Thank the Lord, I'm not alone

Todd Van Beck's picture

It is time to resurrect the funeral home ambulance service again.  This time, however, I am not alone in such a project.

I have made a new buddy, albeit hundreds of miles away, and a gentleman I have never laid eyes on named Scott Reinbolt.  He lives around the Cincinnati metro area, which is my old stomping grounds, so I was immediately intrigued by who he was, and what he was doing just because of his connection to the Queen City, and my intrigue was not for nothing.

Mr. Reinbolt has written a very interesting little treatise called “Humble Heroes: Setting the Record Straight About Funeral Home Operated Ambulance Service." The title is long, and the booklet is 40 pages long – but for anybody, and I suspect there are still a bunch of us out in the world – for anybody who tackled, battled, fought, and nay loved and hated the funeral home ambulance service I would suggest this as a good read.

I wrote a work in 1992 for the American Funeral Director Magazine called “The 1,100 Year History of the Ambulance Service.”  I can’t recall anybody mentioning that they even read the article but AFD published it, and I was happy with the results, but I do believe Mr. Reinbolt has gone a step, in fact many steps ahead of what I had offered in my article.

Mr. Reinbolt, I think anyway, hit pay dirt in his treatment of the myriad of complications, disappointments, and frustrations that many funeral directors experienced in trying to get out of the ambulance service in the 1970s and early 1980s.  I know what a hassle that effort was because I was one of those funeral director who basically could not give my ambulance service away.

Mr. Reinbolt in succinct manner traces first why funeral directors ended up with the ambulance in the first place.  Then he really makes a compelling historical case concerning the road blocks that we faced in trying to get out of the ambulance service.  It was a nightmare experience for so many.  Town meetings after town meetings (where absolutely nothing got accomplished), politics, ego’s run amuck, private agendas, profit and loss, government regulations, insurance requirements, and then just the mistrust that many funeral directors in the ambulance service had for each other.

I remember in my own case the other funeral directors in town all agreed that this or that date would be when we all got out.  The date came, but then at the 11th hour we found out that one lone funeral director had a change of heart – so then we all stayed in it again and in short order this cycle repeated itself over and over.

It is not necessary for me to elaborate on these historic experiences for Mr. Reinbolt has done a thorough job in mapping out just what happened to so many of us.

The booklet is also peppered with funny stories, and Lord knows any of us who operated the ambulance service probably are still telling funny stories to our friends at cocktail parties, because humorous experiences seemed to follow the ambulance like a shadow.

I remember one incident where I hauled this old lady probably a thousand times to and from the nursing home to the hospital, and on every trip I was assured by the medical profession that she was at “death’s door.”  How many times did we hear that one?  I never sent the family a bill, not one.  The logic being that because they seemed to like me I was counting on doing the funeral – mistake with a capital “M”.  Sure enough the lady died and to my utter horror the other funeral home got the call.  I damned near lost my mind over it.  Within three months I ran face to face with the deceased woman’s son downtown.  I couldn’t take the pressure, and blurted out, “Did we do anything to upset you in transporting your dear mother?”  The son replied, “Oh, heaven’s no – mother just loved you.  But my wife and I talked this over and this being a small town to be fair we decided that since we had given you all the ambulance business we had better let the other place have the funeral – you know Todd, just to be fair."

I believe the year was 1978 when my funeral business filed bankruptcy.

So there you have it, the wacky world of the funeral home ambulance service, and the story is retold in a really nice fashion in Mr. Reinbolt’s book.  The book is easy to get and you can contact Mr. Reinbolt at

As I write this post my mind is spinning with memories of running the ambulance service.  I did it for over 20 years, and at times I loved it, and at times I could have burned the vehicle up!  However we did take the ambulance service seriously, we gave (for the time) stellar care with what we had to work with, and looking back for me ambulance service was simply a matter of heart – and my friends in the end is that not what funeral service is all about – a matter of heart?

Anyway that is one old undertaker’s opinion.  TVB


Great observation, Todd. I recently purchased Scott's book and just got around to starting to read it yesterday, on my 25th wedding anniversary. (My wife was not amused). I never worked for a FH ambulance service, but did enter into the infant world of EMS in the mid-1970's, earning my 5-points certification before the advent of EMT. The book is entertaining and fun to read. If there is anyone who has ever had the pleasure of driving a "Miller Meteor" with a Q-siren, this book is for you. I'll be re-blogging this over at VillageUnderatker.Wordpress. Thanks for a great review, Todd....RJV

Ambulance service, like many other consumer services, has become highly technical and in many ways outside the core contribution funeral professionals make to families. People want to be remembered and fear they will not be. Support in dealing with these life issues is how funeral professionals can provide real value added.
Nevin W. Mann

And? How did the son explain the "business" he had given you since he knew he had not written a check to you for the many rides "Momma" had taken? If it was 1978 or so, had you not been billing Medicare for all of those trips? Maybe the son thought Medicare or some other form of medical insurance had covered the payments to you and that you'd make a handsome profits through the years. Just sayin.'

Right around the turn of the decade..1970... Federal regulations thankfully pushed funeral homes out of the ambulance business. At that point in time transportation was not part of most health policies. I am sure if we could have billed Medicare we would have. There were certain frequent fliers that were COD before we got the cot out especially a local migrant worker camp.