Rhea EMS Founded by Gene Cochran in 1973

Rhea EMS Founded by Gene Cochran in 1973

Thomas Gene Cochran in 1980  (Photo Courtesy of Cunnyngham Studio Archives)

Daryle Cochran continues to operate Rhea EMS which was founded by his father.

In the fast-paced society we live in today, it is just about impossible to travel on Hwy 27 through Rhea County without seeing a familiar-looking orange and white ambulance racing up or down the road. We are fortunate to have the Rhea County Emergency Medical Services (Rhea EMS) available to us in case of a medical emergency. Let’s look back and see how the Rhea EMS started.

It seems a little-known fact today that approx. 60-70 years ago, funeral homes operated ambulances that rushed to accident scenes and took the sick to hospital. Funeral directors, after all, were already on call 24 hours a day, and they had some medical knowledge.

Funeral home ambulances not only took the injured to the hospital, but they also gave newborn babies and their mothers a lift home. The equipment was often sparse–a stretcher, a blanket, a first aid kit, or a tackle box filled with gauze and bandages.

Coulter, Sawyers and Vaughn Funeral Homes provided ambulance service to the areas for years prior to the creation of the dedicated ambulance service, which began in the very late 1960s.

A Dayton Herald Newspaper article on July 17, 1975, reported that the Dayton Ambulance Service, which was started by Gene Cochran just two years earlier, had been approved by the Tennessee Board of Health. Approval of the ambulance services must be certified before the county can receive any state and federal aid for emergency medical service.

The ambulance service to the north end of the county was provided by the Smith Ambulance Service, which was established in 1968 by Jerry Smith. To meet requirements of the Board of Health, an ambulance service must have a specially trained Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) on duty 24 hours a day.

Gene Cochran obtained his Emergency Medical Technician license number 3644 from the Tennessee Department of Health on the 4th day of December in 1975.

It wasn’t very long until Gene obtained ownership and began providing ambulance service to the entire county. After obtaining ownership, Gene renamed it the Rhea County Ambulance Service, which today is referred to as the Rhea County Emergency Medical Service.

In the early years, Gene was hands on to nearly every call that came into the service. He ate, slept and breathed the job. Being on call was a way of life for Gene, who kept a radio with him 24 hours a day. He often joked about how he even had it close by when taking a shower.

As the years progressed and the county grew, it became necessary for Gene to hire additional crews to operate the ambulances that were on the road night and day. Three of Gene’s sons joined their father in the business. Billy and Daryle became certified paramedics while their brother Gary worked as a driver and mechanic for the service.

Gene Cochran 800
Gene Cochran Founder of Rhea EMS

It would be impossible to list all the fine men and women that worked for the service over the years, however all of them would tell you that Gene was a kind, soft spoken man who had a love for people. His caring attitude toward the people of Rhea County is why he never left the hospital without speaking to the family of the patient he just brought into the emergency room.

Over the years, he always maintained and equipped his fleet of ambulances with the latest medical equipment available at the time. In 1985, Gene became the county coroner.

In his later years Gene slowed down and while he was occasionally seen on ambulance runs, he was mostly around the office conducting the day-to-day business that kept the service going. However, you could be assured that if a bad call went down, Gene would be there on the scene with his people.

Gene was involved in the community as a member of the Shriners, a member of the Dayton Lodge 512 F&AM, and a charter member of the Rhea County 911 board.

He was known for shopping yard sales and spending hours talking with friends at local restaurants.

Gene passed away on January 30, 2003, after a battle with cancer. According to his family, in the months leading up to his death, he kept a police scanner near his bed to know what was going on around the county.

Gene was born on October 8, 1933, one of several children born to Charlie & Agnes Roddy Cochran. Gene was the father to six children, David, Tommy, Billy, Debbie along with Gary and Daryle, the 2 sons he had with Lucille, his wife who assisted him part time in operating the ambulance service.

Many of Gene’s former employees, siblings, his wife, and two children have now passed, leaving Gene’s youngest son Daryle as sole owner and operator of the Ambulance Service that was founded by his father 51 years ago as of this writing.

Gene Cochran, or 800 as he was known on the radio, will always be in our memory. He is laid to rest next to his wife Lucille and their son Gary at Rhea Memory Gardens in Dayton, Tennessee.

Daryl Cochran Current Rhea EMS owner/operator.
Daryle Cochran current owner/operator of Rhea EMS

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Published byDean

Born and raised in Dayton Tennessee, I have served in various public service positions in the past. I have a great interest in the History of our town. This site is a way for me to share some of the great history of the area.

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