History of Wake County EMS

Wake County EMS 45 Anniversary logo featuring a 1976 ambulance and a modern ambulance

​Prior to the formation of the Wake County EMS, local citizens provided emergency medical care for their communities through private ambulance services and volunteer rescue squads. In early 1976 Wake County Commissioners saw the need to provide the citizens of Raleigh and Wake County with a modern EMS  system. After much research and planning, they formed Wake County Emergency Medical Services. 

Initially there were four ambulances working out of two stations. The original Wake EMS staff consisted of 26 employees, which included the first Director J. Russell Capps, a chief supervisor, three shift supervisors, and 21 field EMTs. 
In 1980, Gerald Y. Brown took on the role of director and was charged with leading Wake EMS from the basic EMT level to the advanced life support level.  A training department was created, and Training Officer Joseph Zalkin was hired to begin working on an advanced life support  program. In 1981 the department advanced to the EMT-Intermediate level. In 1984, Wake EMS implemented care at the highest pre-hospital level, Paramedic. 
Since progressing to the Paramedic level, Wake County EMS has become a proven leader in the EMS community. In 1991, Wake County completed construction on the Public Safety Center, which serves as the administrative offices for the Department of Public Safety and the Sheriff's Office. It also serves as an EMS station, housing three units that serve downtown Raleigh.   

Gerald Brown retired in 2000.  Barry Britt served 2 years as director, and then Skip Kirkwood was hired as director of Wake County EMS in March 2005.   

In 2008, Wake County restructured the departments to help better manage the workflow. As a result, Wake County EMS became a department of its own. Dr. Brent Myers, the EMS System Medical Director, was appointed as the new EMS director. 

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, we’ve developed from ambulance service to a full emergency medical service with a myriad of special operations and response capabilities, which you can learn about throughout these pages. 
In 2015 Dr. Jose Cabanas took over as EMS System Director and Medical Director.  He is at the helm as we head into our 45th year of service. 

Original Wake County EMS ambulance parked on a street
Ambulance with a police car in 1976
Ambulance in front of station around 1980
Ambulance in front of station around 1995
Ambulances inside the original EMS station in the 1990s
Ambulance parked at the Wake Forest EMS station
Two ambulances side by side with staff preparing for a drill
Two ambulances parked at a crash scene on a highway