In view of the high level of civilian casualties caused by German bombing in England and fearing that the worst possible could happen in the United States and New York, in 1942 the War Council's Division of Civilian Protection formed the Emergency Medical Service to respond to the medical needs of bombing casualties. In July 1940, the governor's war plans coordinator had charged the New York State Commission to Formulate a Long-Range Health Program to assemble and analyze data relating to the health resources of the State in order to ascertain their potential to act effectively in case of a national emergency. The commission recommended that each county create an Advisory Health Preparedness Committee composed of members of the public health organizations in the county to handle all medical problems anticipated in connection with air attacks. This early action laid a firm foundation for the Emergency Medical Service.
All general hospitals in the State were part of the Emergency Medical Service. The hospital care of casualties was planned upon the basis of local self-sufficiency, and for this reason, hospitals worked in conjunction with their local civilian protection units and casualty stations. However, a statewide system of casualty receiving and emergency base hospitals was established in case any single hospital became overcrowded. (The State Department of Mental Hygiene provided 26 institutions for emergency hospital use, the largest single source. )Plans to keep check on each institution's ability to provide emergency base hospital bed space were formulated. In the area surrounding each of the State's larger cities, emergency bed space was maintained constantly, and equipment for 10,500 beds was supplied to the State by the Medical Division of the United States Office of Civilian Defense. In addition, the United States Public Health Service and the Red Cross worked out agreements delimiting mutual spheres of activity.
At its peak strength, the New York State Emergency Medical Service consisted of 2,454 mobile emergency medical field units whose personnel included 2,454 doctors, 4,808 registered nurses, and 7,812 medical auxiliaries. Almost 1,500 casualty stations were established, over 17,000 stretcher teams were formed, and regular or converted ambulances with a combined capacity of over 8,400 persons were made available. Casualty stations were set up to handle minor injuries not requiring hospitalization. Emergency Medical Field Units were teams of trained professionals and volunteers who were prepared to travel to bombing sites to provide limited medical treatment before transporting casualties to hospitals.
Once the initial job of organization had been completed, a skeleton staff supervised its maintenance and, as the war progressed in Europe and the danger of German bombings receded, the Emergency Medical Service shifted its attention to assisting with civilian disasters. In a number of incidents (railroad wrecks, an explosion in an electric plant, a food poisoning epidemic, the crash of a pilotless plane into an aircraft factory, and a chlorine gas poisoning accident, among others), the Emergency Medical Service responded promptly, demonstrating that the preparation put into its formation was not in vain.