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For over 100 years, we have been responding to emergencies
in New York City in a Bus!

Bus, Ambo, Rescue, RA/Rescue Ambulance, Meat Wagon, Orange & White Bus Company,
Big White Taxi- every region has its own slang.

The slang “Bus” is a proud part of New York City ambulance heritage

    When I came on the job (another NY term), I too asked why our ambulances were called buses. My partner, with some 30 years experience, told me to go stand in front of the bus and look at it. We were still in the ambulances we called “Bread Boxes”  the step vans based on the Bread delivery trucks popular in the 60’s,with a single front door, and a split windshield that resembled the Transit Authority buses of the 40’s,50’s and 60’s.  He was wrong.
                                                                  New York City Department of Hospitals "Bread Box"                                                                                                                        1958 New York City Transit Authority -General Motors
                                                                                                                   Built on an Olson Kurbmaster Jr. body         

    Past and present members of the FDNY/EMS continue to spread many incorrect myths of the terms origin. Another myth is they are called buses because of the first modular Grumman ambulances the service purchased in 1974. They are not. Most of the NYC buses in the 50’s and 60’s were General Motors. Grumman did not enter the transit bus business until 1978 when they purchased the Flxible Company , and NYC did not purchase a Grumman Flxible until 1980. The entire fleet was found to be defective and the city sued until the entire fleet purchase was returned.

New York City Transit and MTA Bus Models                               Retired Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bus Fleet    


1980 Grumman Flxible- Metropolitan Transit Authority     



    If you examine some of the terms for ambulance in use around the country, many exist out of tradition or common use. The use of RESCUE for an ambulance these days is often inaccurate. Most have nothing to do with physical rescue. They carry few if any rescue tools. The term is a holdover from the days when the Fire Department Rescue truck members were the only ones trained in even basic first aid, and carried a Pulmotor or a Reviv a Life or an E&J. They are Trucks or Rigs, because their ancestors were part of the fire service. In many parts of the country, the ambulances were double duty funeral cars, or station wagons. They earned the “Meat wagon” tag because most of their personnel had little medical training and even less equipment. Load and Go was the method of the day.


      The first reliable reference I can find for the use of Bus as an ambulance in NYC dates back to 1903…long before GM, or Grumman. The mode of ambulance propulsion was four legs.


    If you read the autobiography of Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer- “Bowery to Bellevue, The story of New York’s First Woman Ambulance Surgeon”, you will find it was a common reference to the horse drawn carriage ambulance of the day. How it came into existence is still a mystery, but it is thjought to come from the word omnibus.


    Calling an ambulance a bus is a tradition that has survived more than a century. Its use a celebration of tradition. It honor the ambulance men that came before. 


(Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. I A-G)
bus n. (...)
2. an automobile or other motor vehicle.
1914 T.A. Dorgan, in Zwilling TAD Lexicon 22: A friend of mine just bought a new car. A flivver...Thats like mine - some bus.
1916 W.J. Robinson At Front 121: The old 'bus made the most of what she had.
1917 Imbrie War Ambulance 115: A car was a "buss."
1917 in Dos Passos 14th Chronicle 92: Our ambulance however is simply peppered with holes - how the old bus holds together is more than I can make out.


More information on Dr Dunning: 

           Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer 


Dr. Dunning Riding the Bus-
from the movie "The Girl in White" with June Allyson, Jessie White, and James Arness


If you would like more information on the history of EMS in New York: 
FDNY/New York City EMS History