• March 1, 2015
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Vilnius Emergency Medical Services during the interwar period (2)

The Vilnius Emergency Medical Services was founded in December 1902. It was the 5th EMS in Poland – established after the ones from Kraków (1891), Lwów (1893), Warsaw (1897) and Łódź (1899). The originators and the longtime protectors of the institution were: count Władysław Tyszkiewicz and his wife Maria Krystyna from Lubomirski family. Its first chairperson was Dr. Michał Węsławski. At the beginning of the 1919 the Bolsheviks disbanded the EMS’ board and turned it into a city institution.

Together with the Fire Guard

The Association of Temporary Aid shared the courtyard of the former monastery with the Vilnius Fire Guard (interwar period name for the fire service) which lend horsed to the EMS. Horse-drawn carriages were the EMS primary means of transport. The carters had to build the stable stalls themselves. Fire Guard usually provided them with the planks, if not they had to buy planks on their own.

The representatives of the EMS sometimes complained about the firemen. In January 1922, the EMS administrator Dr. Kazimierz Kodź wrote a formal complain to the sanitary department. He complained about one of the carters – Konstanty Jacuński – who frequently used Russian vulgarisms while waiting for the departure. The wait was caused by Dr. Tatjana Paszkowa-Junowicz’s intervention concerning the patient poisoned with strychnine. Paszkowa-Junowicz was forced to transport the patient to the hospital of St. James. There was only a feldsher on a duty in the hospital. The two began the attempt to save the patient. The whole process lasted for half an hour. When the medic went to the cart for medicaments the carter gave vent to his dissatisfaction. Apparently the complain worked because Jacuński apologized for his behavior and Dr. Kodź wrote another letter asking for the carter’s pardon due to the long service and deep remorse.

The archival documents also contained the request of Aleksander Bałasz who wanted to return to the flat located on the EMS premises on Dominikańska street. He supported his appeal by the fact that he was an older well qualified medic responsible for: the everyday supply of the EMS’ medicines and dressings, tidiness and neatness of the EMS’ premises, statistics etc. Therefore he wanted to live closer to the EMS and the potential flat was located on the courtyard and was available.

The EMS’ transportation

The EMS administrator had to deal with problem of getting to and picking up patients. On the 5th of December, “Kurier Litweski” published the information that the first ambulance – “Cyklista”, imported from Warsaw – was driving in town. In 1924, the EMS owned other ambulances – “Władysław” and “Wilnianka”. Due to the increasing number of fires the horse carts lacked the sufficient number of horses. After some time, the city council permitted the EMS to buy two horses and employ two carters (already mentioned Konstanty Jacuński and Aleksander Jałowski) who worked until the EMS had motorized ambulances. According to the archival documents: “on the 11th of March the horse was bought from Krystyna Radziewicz for 210,000 Polish marks. A commission that examined the horse noted that: it was a stallion, 4 years old, 145 centimeters tall, brown, bold, with white legs up to knees and a white spot under the chin; healthy and prepared to work for the EMS. Already on the 5th of August, being informed by the EMS, examined the horse and noted that the horse cannot move for a month. The conclusion was that the horse was healthy but incapable of moving on paved streets, therefore it should be sold or rented. The same lady sold a bay mare to the EMS for 400,000 Polish marks. The magistrate health commission noted that the mare: was 5 years old, 148 centimeters tall, prepared to work for the EMS. Harnesses were bough too.

1922, the EMS administrator Dr. Kazimierz Kodź sent a formal request to the magistrate asking for informing the doctors to use the EMS transportation only when really needed. “Lately there were 3-4 calls a day, we’re not a transportation bureau” – wrote the administrator. In 1926, the magistrate established a 12 PLN fee for the EMS transportation to the medical institutions. Discount fee equaled 8 PLN.

On the 5th of January 1926, the health department informed the magistrate that the EMS stared using Ford automobile ambulance. After 11 years of service the ambulance became dangerous to the traffic and useless. The ambulance was frequently broken, therefore its use was not very beneficial. It had a smoke chimney and automatic water heat. When the water was boiling the ambulance could not be used for the sake of the safety of the sick and the EMS employees. In 1930, the EMS started using Tatra ambulance. The ambulance was frequently stuck in the narrow boggy roads. It bended sideways which lead to windows cracking, axle shafts broking, and chassis and body destruction. In 1933, the EMS started using Chevrolet (hopefully better than the previous ambulances). However, it was exploited and rarely serviced.

Salaries and vacations of the EMS employees

In accordance with the magistrate regulations the doctors received equal salaries independently from their function and work shifts. In 1922, the city council decided to add additional 1,000 Polish marks to the monthly salary of the senior doctor – EMS administrator. For example: employing 2 carters cost monthly 20,650 Polish marks. In 1930, the EMS administrator earned 538 PLN, EMS’ contract doctors Dr. Władysław Szemis earned 325,80 PLN, medic Zabłocki 127 PLN.

According to the archival documents, initially, the EMS doctors were eligible to 2 weeks vacations. It can be proved on the basis of the request to the health department for 1 month vacations written by: Kazimierz Kodź, A. Narkiewicz, and Daniel Jankowski. “Not like in the case of ordinary workers” – wrote the doctors. The city cancel approved the request. During their vacations they were replaced (for 3 months) by Dr. Marian Przyałgowski (born in 1883), residing at Antokolska 40 street. He was born in Kaunas where he graduated from a secondary school, he studied at the university of Tartu (Dorpat) (1908), worked in Kaunas and Petersburg, came to Vilnius in May 1923. Dr. Marian Przyałgowski was one of the founders of the Vilnius Fight Cancer Foundation (1931).

Two years later, Dr. Daniel Jankowski, Dr. Władysław Karol Szemis and Dr. Kazimierz Kodź applied to the health department for a paid vacations (1926). They said that they were tired of the constant emergencies at the EMS and that they did not have a single day off for a few years. That is why they asked for a paid summer vacations. “We underline that we don’t have the privilege of having free weekends and holidays.”

The doctors failed to resolve the matter amicably despite their justification: “There are four medics working in the EMS. One works on the station, two are responsible for helping the victims of accidents and sudden unexpected illnesses in the city, one is more loose – that is why we have every four 24 ours free.” After being rejected, four medics: Aleksander Bałasz, Michał Chmielewski, Józef Zabłocki and Władysław Czerniuk turned to the labor inspector asking for rescheduling their work for every second 24 hours: “Due to our service we are unable to enjoy fresh air, holidays, church, and peaceful night’s sleep. It happens that whole city sleeps whereas we have to help the victims of accidents. Our children are growing up and not knowing their own fathers.” We do not know how the matter was resolved due to the lack of documents.

In 1927, medic Chmielewski, medic Czerniuk, and former senior medic the then sanitary custodian Franciszek Maliszewski turned to the city council asking for acknowledging their work in the EMS in the period of 1902-1919 as a civil service. The city declined their request because during that period the institution was private not public. In August 1927, there were few dishonorable discharges. Medic Zabłocki was fired because he drank alcohol on duty and stole EMS’ morphine. When he was found on the Fire Guard premises he showed the symptoms of morphine poisoning – according to the letter written by Kodź to the magistrate. Similarly harsh sanctions awaited EMS medic Paweł Bartoszewicz who lawlessly abandoned the workplace while being on an emergency duty (4.11.1930). He received a reprimand from the president of the city and was ordered 5 emergency duties in a row.

Zyta Kołoszewska


Translated by Damian Gabryś within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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