Prague’s Ambulance Service: Saving Lives Since 1857

It is not unusual to see a rescue car driving through Prague. Ambulances operate all over the world. But did you know Prague's ambulance service is the oldest in Europe?

Ceska sanitka - Czech ambulance car - Zdravotní záchranná služba, 2018.
A Czech ambulance car. Photo: kaprik / Alamy Stock Photo / Be&W

The Emergency Medical Service of the City of Prague celebrated its 165th anniversary. It is the oldest emergency medical service (ambulance service) of this type in Europe and possibly the world. Throughout its history, it has gone through some critical situations. One incident, in particular, brought the Prague ambulance world recognition.

Humble Beginnings

At the beginning of the Prague ambulance service, there were 36 volunteers, with only three paramedics. Initially, it was a simple organization aiming to transport patients to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible. To do this, they used stretchers and horse-drawn carriages. Because of the small number of paramedics, the medical care provided during the transport was minimal. 

Following the example of the Prague ambulance, similar services began to emerge in other Czech cities, like Opava and Olomouc. Moreover, the ambulance phenomenon began spreading to other European countries. First, it spread within the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, and then the Prague Ambulance format crossed its borders.

Official Recognition and later advancements

Although the Prague Ambulance Service has been officially recognized for a long time, for many of its beginning years, it was missing one final step in ensuring its smooth and effective functioning: an official headquarters. That final step happened in 1890 when the Prague Rescue Service was given a whole house on Prague’s Václavské náměstí, in the very center of Prague.

With the expansion of commercial cars and trucks, the Prague Ambulance Service and its fleet have expanded significantly. Along with advances in technology, the health care provided also improved. Prague ambulances were no longer just about transporting people to hospitals but also about providing quality medical care on the spot. 

Prague - rescue service, Prague Voluntary Protection Corps - carriage, ambulance, ambulance This is what the carriage and staff of the "Prague Voluntary Guard Corps" looked like in 1890.
The Prague Voluntary Protection Corp in 1890. Photo: PAP / CTK

A defining tragedy

A thick, impenetrable fog sat over Prague on 30 October 1975. Yugoslav flight JP 450 was about to land at Prague’s Ruzyně airport. However, it was descending too fast and, as a result, crashed in Prague’s Suchdol area with 120 people on board. To this day, it is the largest air crash in the Czech Republic.

All available vehicles of the Prague rescue service were immediately dispatched to the crash site. In less than 30 minutes after the crash, 45 survivors were taken to the hospital and received medical treatment. Thanks to quick intervention and quality ambulance medical care, 41 people survived the crash. Four succumbed to severe injuries in the hospital. Rescuers from all over the World congratulated the performance of the Prague ambulance and were impressed with the speed and quality of the response.

Serving Prague and its citizens for 165 years

In 2021, Prague ambulances drove over 2.5 million kilometers, and Prague Ambulance Service helicopters flew to 862 incidents. On average, the ambulance service received approximately 575 emergency calls and dealt with almost 350 incidents a day. It, therefore, dealt with over 210,000 incidents per year. 

The bottom line is that the Prague Ambulance Service is an essential element of the safety and well-being of the inhabitants of Prague. In conclusion, we can only hope that you will never need the services of Prague paramedics. And if you do, either call the pan-European number 112 or the Czech number 155. In any case, you will be in good hands.

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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