CHARLESTON, Ill. (WCIA) — The Charleston Fire Department is marking a big anniversary for its ambulance service.

It has been running ambulance operations for half of a century, and it’s something Chief Steve Bennett said sets them apart from other departments in the area.

“Just having the ambulance service is a big deal,” Bennett said. “We were probably one of the first full-time fire departments in Central Illinois to have a full-time ambulance service.”

Bennett said Champaign, Springfield and Decatur all have their services through hospitals or private providers. He said one of the challenges they’ve had to adapt to over the past 50 years is the cost of equipment.

Things have gotten a lot more expensive, especially the cost of ambulances.

“$207,000,” Bennett said. “And actually, the council is going to vote to go ahead and approve to purchase another one, and it’s $293,000. And it’s a two-year build time.”

But with the rising costs, technologies have also improved. Paramedic Allison Tinnon said equipment they didn’t have in 1973, like automated defibrillators, is something she is thankful for.

“I like it, it kind of makes our jobs a little easier,” Tinnon said. “And we can focus on more important things and kind of multitask a little better.”

Tinnon is a bit of a history maker herself. As the first woman firefighter at the Charleston Fire Department, she’s been thinking about her place in its storied history.

“I’ll be coming up on a year here, so I have actually been thinking about that quite a bit,” Tinnon said. “I think it’s very special that I get to be a part of a lot of it.”

And even though remembering the past is important, Tinnon said she’s glad they have upgraded to battery-powered stretchers.

“I have worked with the older ones,” she said. “So, it’s definitely, it relieves a lot of back pain.”

There were other changes in the past five decades. The department started with two ambulances; they now have five and a truck that is fully stocked with all the equipment other ambulances have. It just can’t transport people. Bennet calls his fleet “emergency rooms on wheels.”

In 1974, the department’s first full year of ambulance service, there were 956 responses to calls compared with 5,136 last year.

Bennett said the fire department has always been able to adapt to the changing times, domething he thinks will allow them to run the ambulances for another 50 years.

“Yeah, I think so,” Bennett said. “It’s going to go, go, go.”