Why is That Ambulance in Such a Hurry?

Image Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/05/health/think-the-er-was-expensive-look-at-the-ambulance-bill.html

Have you ever watched an ambulance go speeding by, lights flashing and sirens screaming, and wondered where they were off to in such a hurry this time? Perhaps rushing a heart-attack or stroke patient to the hospital, or zooming off to the scene of a horrific accident to apply life-saving first aid? Maybe delivering an organ needed for a transplant, or bringing a doctor or nurse to those unable to be moved at the moment?

Would you ever consider that maybe the urgency has a different motivation altogether. Would you find it conceivable that maybe the ambulance was being driven rapidly for the sole purpose of attempting to get to the dwelling of a recently deceased BEFORE the police arrive? “Why would the ambulance workers do that?” you may ask. So that they could ransack the place looking for cash!

I grew up in a large American city. When I was in high school, one of my friends managed to get a job working at the morgue. He was assigned to the ambulance crew. Their job was to go pick up the bodies of recently (and not so recently) deceased folk, particularly people who died in a conspicuous public manner, or who had no next of kin. The intent was to get the corpse away and out of sight as soon as possible, to avoid upsetting the rest of us mortals.

He had lots and lots and lots of stories, as you can imagine. The usual pick-up was an accident victim, often as not a young man riding a motorcycle. However, occasionally they would receive a call to go to a cheap hotel, or seedy apartment building, to retrieve someone whose passing had been reported by the building manager. These folks had no next of kin and so their possessions would be up for grabs.

The trick was to get there before the cops (not that the cops were paragons of virtue, as frequently they would pick a place clean themselves). If this could be achieved, the next step was to look for cash, gold, and other generic items of value that could not be easily identified as stolen.

My friend worked away at his job most of the summer, every now and then enriching himself with a $5 or $10 bill from a recent “hauling job.” Then one day I went to his house to discover that he had just purchased a top of the line stereo system. I was amazed and impressed. But instead of pride, he seemed highly uneasy about his new possession, and after a little bit of prompting told me why.

It seems that just a few days prior the morgue had received a call to pick up an unclaimed man from some hotel. All went smoothly for the ambulance crew, and they arrived well before the police. The three of them then did some snooping around, and one of them hit the jackpot, a huge stash of cash!

There was a lot of money involved here. My friend “only” got about $5,000 USD from a total stash of probably over $20,000 (I guess this was fair; he was simply a summer intern). Now understand that this was in the mid-1970‘s, when a U.S. Dollar was worth a whole lot more. This was a big haul!

He left the morgue soon after that, and never really talked much about it anymore (Guilt?). But ever since then, whenever I see a speeding ambulance, I wonder what they are really up to.