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Poulos helps keep ambulances rolling
Nearly 60 years leading Manteca non-profit
Manteca Ambulance board chairman Ted Poulos, is flanked by veteran administrators Bill Caldera, chief operations officer, and Dana Solomon, chief executive officer in front of Station 52 on Airport Way named for Poulos. - photo by GLENN KAHL
Ted Poulos has dedicated nearly 60 years of his life to helping make sure emergency medical care in Manteca-Lathrop is just a phone call away.

The retired Manteca pharmacist is quick to say it’s not all about him. However, without Poulos the need for properly staffed ambulances in the Manteca-Lathrop area and Tuolumne County would not have been a reality.

The consensus among those involved with the $6 million non-profit emergency response paramedic operation is that Poulos carried the ball in the operation for many years.

Today there are 100 ambulance employees between Manteca and Sonora. The recently opened Station 52 has two ambulance bays and 1,600 feet of living space for crew members who man the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  It is located on about an acre north of the Manteca Unified School District headquarters.

Chief Executive Officer Dana Solomon has been with Manteca Ambulance since 1980. Bill Caldera has been the chief operating officer since 1981.  Solomon remembers first working with Caldera in Manteca in the early 1980s out of a station situated at the rear edge of what was the burned out El Rey Theater. They were the district’s original paramedics.

Solomon said when there were checks to be signed by Poulos he would walk across Yosemite Avenue to Manteca Drug Store and wait for the pharmacist to have a break in his business to sign them.

“Ted was always gracious with volunteering his time – a wonderful mentor to both of us,” Solomon said.  For all his years of service as head of what started as the Manteca District Volunteer Ambulance Service, he never took as much as a nickel, Solomon noted.

“The beauty of it was he was always busy, going and doing, but he’s always been kind to us – always made our board meetings.  In fact, I think one of the first board meetings he missed a few months ago was when we scheduled a board meeting on top of a Greek Classic,” Solomon chuckled.

Truly a team with local fire agencies
He added that “there’s no question” that Poulos has always been a great diplomat and “has always wanted us to work hand in hand with our fire departments.

“That’s not always the case, not only statewide but nationwide,” Solomon said. “In our case we are truly a team – he’s been very instrumental in making sure we adhere to that.”

The ambulance chief thought back to his beginning with the ambulance service in 1980 when there was only one paramedic and one volunteer EMT running about 80 calls per month.
“We had just gone on advance life support.  The EMT volunteer got paid $10 to $15 per call.  And then we kept building up our revenues to the point where we could hire four full-time paramedics and  some EMTs and finally a good office staff that got our money in,  not receiving any tax revenues whatsoever,” Solomon recalled.    

Poulos interjected, “When I came on board with Avis Vierra, I tried to spend as much time as I could.”  

Solomon added that without Ted Poulos and photographer Dale Johnson and others, the newborn ambulance effort would have died in the incubator rather than evolving into today’s success story.

Solomon credited the camaraderie Poulos created with the early doctors in town as being beneficial toward the need for  an ambulance – doctors like Russell Carter and Robert Winter.  It was the teamwork he established with the professionals in the community that made it all work, Solomon said.

The longtime Manteca pharmacist has been aptly described as a most gentle and caring man toward those in his community – seeing a need and continuing to fill it in the best possible way.  A veteran of 25 years on the board of directors of Doctors Hospital, he also served 17 years on the Delta College Board.

Solomon said that Poulos is retired but not retired. He begins his days with exercise and then runs out to check on his 100-year-old almond ranch, goes to his office and then by the ambulance office.

“For a guy, who is retired from business, he is very active with many irons in the fire – he just doesn’t stop,” the ambulance chief said.

Ambulance service started in 1951
The ambulance service got its start in 1951 when a group of Mantecans saw the importance in having an emergency medical response. The closest ambulance had to come from Stockton.  Victims of traffic collisions would often have to wait for an hour until an ambulance could arrive at a crash scene.

Annual $3 subscriptions allowing any member of a family to be transported in Manteca’s first ambulance were purchased from service club members at street corner booths.  The donation would later go up to $5 per family.  Before the launching of the new service, promoters borrowed an ambulance and placed it in the Sportsmen’s Club’s annual parade down Yosemite Avenue in a public relations effort to attract more community support.

Johnson and Dave Vest traveled to Southern California and brought back a converted 1952 Chevy panel truck that was put into service a year later.  It was Johnson who proposed the ambulance movement in early December 1950 to the Manteca Jaycees with the immediate support of Vest.

A dozen volunteer drivers first took scheduled assignments to respond to calls.   They would park the ambulance at their homes awaiting emergency telephone calls to their residences.  It was Dr Winter who trained the drivers in a Red Cross level emergency medical care.  Merrit Lowery was the first paid ambulance driver rushing from his day job at Aldo Brocchini’s Hardware Mart store on Yosemite Avenue to get behind the wheel, drive to pick up his partner and answer the emergency calls.  

 Later Charles Bergthold was hired to drive the ambulance which he housed at his Bergthold Mortuary at the corner of Maple Avenue and West Center Street.

Another early volunteer who rode with Bergthold was George Lauritson.  Owner of Lauritson’s Variety Store on Yosemite Avenue, George would suffer a fatal heart attack in the early years after returning from his third fatal highway collision ambulance run.

Solomon recalled selling the small station on South Grant Street, attached to what is now the Kelley Brothers Brewery, for $90,000.  That money was used to buy the lot where the two-story Station 50 is now located on East Center Street at Lincoln Avenue.

That centrally located Manteca station today handles an average of 640 calls a month with 450 of those being emergencies with the others logged as transfers.   Station 50 had a total of 7,731 calls last year. Station 51 covers Lathrop and the I-5 corridor and Station 52 takes the southern part of Lathrop and the northwest section of Manteca.

The placement of the three stations strategically allows ambulance response time to generally be under four minutes from the time the call is received to arriving at the scene of a collision or to a medical emergency in a home or business.

Station 50 opened its doors in 1990 and Station 51 in 1993 followed by Station 52 this year – all state-of-the-art response centers.  

Manteca Ambulance takes over Tuolumne Service
Chief Operations Officer Bill Caldera remembers going to Tuolumne County in 1985 taking over the operation of the Mobile Life ambulance with 16 employees.  It has now grown to 35 to 40 employees and has gone from 1.5 ambulances to nearly seven with a total of 600 calls a month.

Caldera and Solomon had a history of working together in Tuolumne County before coming to Manteca a year apart some 30 years ago.   Caldera had been teaching EMT classes at the Manteca Fire Department when a paramedic left the ambulance to join the firefighters and he filled the ambulance slot that opened up.

The fire department was in the process of going from advanced medical support to EMT training and Caldera was instrumental in bringing those classes to the community.  He remembers training former firemen through Delta College at the Powers Avenue fire station.  It included firemen like Ron Wadle, Larry Draeger, Billy Stevens, and Steve Consantino.

Solomon noted that the non-profit is a fee-for-service business and doesn’t accept any tax revenue in its operation.  The patients are not charged to cancel calls nor are collision victims charged if they are not treated or transported.  The ambulance service eats those costs, he said.