Phil Lewin was 15 when he went on his first ambulance call.
“They needed someone to go along. I went,” he said.
At the time, the ambulance service was part of the local funeral home – a business Lewin’s father, Alvin, purchased in 1967, along with a furniture store, after the original owner passed away.
That was the beginning of Lewin Furniture-Funeral Home.
By then, Lewin was in mortuary school, with the intention of eventually returning to Fremont.
“I came home from college one weekend. Dad wanted to continue the ambulance service here,” he said.
Up until then, the ambulance service had been based out of Weyauwega.
Lewin’s father wanted to base it out of Fremont and purchased a 1967 Buick Skylark for the service.
In 1968, Lewin was working at a funeral home in Milwaukee when he received a call from his mother, asking if he could come home and help, after his father had a heart attack.
“I’ve been here ever since,” Lewin said. “We ran the ambulance as part of the business and had local people take a first aid course.”
He handled the funeral home, furniture store and ambulance 24/7.
“Then, the state eventually changed its rules and regulations. You needed formal training to go on an ambulance run,” Lewin said. “I took the basic EMT class, along with a couple other people from Fremont.”
He took the class with Mel Maierhafer and Gordon Puls and obtained his basic EMT license in 1974.
Another change at the state level meant vehicles used in an ambulance service must meet specific codes.
The station wagon they had used since 1967 did not meet them.
“As a business, we quit providing the ambulance service and volunteered to get something going,” Lewin said.
He approached the village of Fremont and towns of Fremont and Wolf River to propose the idea of the service being funded through tax dollars.
The three municipalities agreed, and on Jan. 1, 1976, the Fremont-Wolf River EMS formed.
They left it up to Lewin to organize the service.
“It was pre-911,” he said. “At the time, we took the calls and did dispatch out of the furniture store. We had a phone line dedicated to the ambulance.”
Its first ambulance was a Dodge, housed in an extra bay at the fire station.
The service operated out of there until 1997, when a building was constructed next to the town of Fremont’s hall.
That continues to be its location.
Lewin said it remained a basic EMT service until 2009. That year, its service became IV tech.
“It’s operating that way now,” he said. “Today, everything is dispatched by the county.”
Through the years, new ambulances have been purchased, and Lewin served as the service director and secretary-treasurer.
On Jan. 1, he retired from both positions.
“I just decided it was time now,” Lewin said. “I can teach someone else to do it. I feel now I can help through the transition.”
Taking over the position is Susie Kaufmann, who was his assistant for several years.
Lewin saw the ambulance service change and grow.
“The first years, we covered the ambulance 24 hours a day with six people,” he said. “Now, there are 26 people on the list.”
He also remembers the many days when he worked at the furniture store, went to an ambulance call during the night and also handled a death that same night for the funeral home. Then the next day, he opened the furniture store at 8 a.m.
“When I was younger, I had ambition, was energetic. I never minded getting up during the night and going. If there was a call, you just dropped everything,” Lewin said.
The service evolved, he said, from providing transportation to a hospital to providing treatment.
“All the rules and regulations came out for the benefit of everyone,” he said.
Lewin went on countless calls through the years and remembers one in particular, which involved the old, white station wagon originally used for the ambulance.
An elderly man was being taken to the hospital in New London during a snowstorm.
“We were coming up a hill. There were deer, and because of the snow, I didn’t want to hit the brakes. I just slowed down. The deer split, and we went right between them,” Lewin said.
He also remembered being called to a bait shop for a man who was not breathing.
“We hooked him up to the defibrillator and took him to RMC,” Lewin said.
The following year, the man, who was from Illinois, made a point of going to see Lewin when he visited Fremont.
“It was a community service,” Lewin said.
While he has retired from his role with the EMS, he is not retiring from his work at the furniture store and funeral home.
He still has his EMT/IV tech license, so he can still go out on ambulance calls if he wishes.
“It’s a good thing. New people have new ideas,” Lewin said of his decision to retire from his EMS role. “I think I served my community and the people.”