Decades of dedication: Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Service celebrates 60 years

Wulf James-Roby
The Daily Ardmoreite
Modern equipment and upgraded faclities are one of many improvments SOAS has seen over their 60 years.

In the early 1960s, the Southern Oklahoma Ambulance Services used hearse-style vehicles with a single operator. If the patient needed assistance en route, the operator had to pull over and handle the situation. In those early days, there was little in the way of training for emergency responders.   

"We have completed our 60th year of operations this month,” said Bob Hargis, executive director. “The service started was incorporated in 1961, then opened for business in the first part of 1962.”  

Unlike many other ambulance services in the region, SOAS operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity. “That’s fairly rare for an ambulance service,” Hargis said. Many other services in the region are tax, county or hospital based, according to Hargis. 

Sixty years later, not only does SOAS operate in well-trained teams, they also have support and upgraded equipment. Jeff Taylor, director of operations, said one of the more recent equipment additions is an automatic CPR device. “The very first time it was used,” Taylor said, “we had a save.” It’s hard to put a dollar value on saving a life – but for a nonprofit operation, responsible stewardship of the funds they receive is paramount to success. In fact, in an effort to perhaps sway voters to okay a tax subsidy for the service, SOAS underwent a major audit with J Fitch and Associates. That audit ranked SOAS among the most efficient emergency medical services the agency had rated, nationally.  

Emergency services guidelines and certifications came about in the late 70s, followed by advanced life support services in the 80s. “EMS started becoming a real bonafide industry, a part of the health care system,” Hargis said. “EMS has always had a strange place between being health care, being public service, and then in our case being non profit. We provide very in-depth advanced life, support care now, and we have highly modernized equipment.” 

Those advances and upgrades put SOAS in position for 2021, their busiest year on record. “We had a record 8,886 calls for service,” Hargis said. In addition to serving the greater Ardmore area, SOAS also assists with neighboring agencies and provides transport services when needed.

“All of the area ambulance services trade with each other,” Hargis said. “We help each other out.” Hargis said if an ambulance service in a neighboring county is out of ambulances, or if SOAS is, they will travel to the others territory and pitch in.  

As a nonprofit service, SOAS is funded- in part by grants and foundation funding. “We write grants to the local foundations, like the Memorial Foundation, the McCrory Foundation,” Hargis said. “We also have a tax subsidy from five districts in western Carter County.” Hargis said. There is also a substation in west Carter County. “Every ambulance you see in our bay is a product of one of the organizations and partners who help us.” Hargis said SOAS was also a recipient of the Charles Smith bequest funding.  

Taylor said he feels like the consistent leadership has been the basis for the success of SOAS. “I feel that that's just from the dedication from from our executive directors that care about this service,” Taylor said. “They wake up and strive to see it succeed and do what they can to keep our doors open.” Over the 60 years in operation, SOAS has had just three executive directors, each of whom brought their own passions to the role for the safety and health of the community.  

Another contribution to the success of SOAS, Taylor said, is their relationship with volunteer fire departments in the area. “We’ve done some training and certifications with a lot of our departments in surrounding counties,” Taylor said. “We have worked with them to get them Emergency Medical Responder agency certifications. That has helped us out a lot.” Not only does that help EMS in having extra hands on an emergency scenes, it’s a benefit to those involved in those incidents.  

"We’ve had a lot of amazing successes and a lot of saves over the years,” Hargis said. “But mostly I think it’s just, we’re driven differently from other services because we are a nonprofit. Being a nonprofit leader is a different kind of passion. You are responsible for keeping it going. No one owns it. It just guides itself.”  

Looking forward to the future, SOAS and its leadership has plans to secure funding so that the organization can continue to grow. “We’re continuing to grow with the community,” Hargis said. “The community is building new things and adding new businesses, and the city’s infrastructure has to grow with that. Part of the plan includes a ‘train to work’ program where SOAS trains EMS staff on the job in an effort to recruit local folks to work in the field.  

For more information on SOAS, connect with them on Facebook or call 580-223-1226 or email info@soas.net.