We take for granted today that when a medical emergency occurs, we can dial 911 and the fine technicians of Lee County EMS will be at our home in a few short minutes. That has not always been the case on Pine Island. Prior to 1960 the Engelhardt Funeral Home in Fort Myers served our community with ambulance service. When there was a need for trip to the Lee Memorial Hospital, you would call the Sunset Tackle Shop in Matlacha, and they would contact Engelhardt to dispatch an ambulance. The tackle shop had one of the few phones on the island, and I guess you could always check on the fishing while you waited, which could be a while. A trip out here from the funeral home was at least 30 minutes. That all changed in 1959 when Engelhardt donated a 1946 Cadillac ambulance to our volunteer fire department.
To finance the operation of the ambulance the fire department started the sale of transportation tickets at a cost of one dollar per family. A couple of years later the ticket cost was raised to $3.00 to cover additional expenses. In 1964, the ambulance service made 30 emergency trips to the hospital. That same year Engelhardt donated two additional ambulances to keep the service up to date. In 1965 Engelhardt gave the fire department an International Travelall, which was converted into the “finest ambulance in Lee County” according to the County Health Department Inspector.
As the cost increased to maintain the ambulance fleet, the cost of the transportation tickets increased. In a 1977 article in the Eagle it was noted that for Pine Island residents “a mere $20 gives you an unlimited number of emergency trips to the hospital with no charge for oxygen, aspirator and bandages”. It was pointed out in the same article that the “Lee County ambulance service cost $35 per trip with charges for all of the extras”.
By 1985 the county took over the ambulance service and the tickets were replaced by a property tax of $20.00 on each dwelling, and $10.00 on each space in the trailer parks.