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Vern Hunter, founder of Hunter's Ambulance in Meriden, talks about the company's 50 year history, Wednesday, June 26, 2013.  (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal)
Vern Hunter, founder of Hunter's Ambulance in Meriden, stands next to a 1953 Cadillac ambulance currently being restored for the company's 50th celebration, Wednesday, June 26, 2013.  (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal) Vern and Barbara Hunter and their first limousine in the 1960's. Hunter's Ambulance is celebrating 50 years of service to the community. (Courtesy Hunter's Ambulance)

Meriden’s Vern Hunter, a pioneer in emergency medical response, dies at 82

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MERIDEN — Vern A. Hunter, founder of Hunter’s Ambulance, will be remembered as a pioneer in the field of emergency medical services, his dedication to the city, and his larger-than-life personality. Hunter died Sunday at the age of 82 after a brief illness.

The red, yellow, and white Hunter’s ambulances are ubiquitous in Meriden. But Vern Hunter wasn’t always in the ambulance business.

David Lowell, a city councilor and executive at Hunter’s Ambulance, said Hunter first ran an auto body garage. Hunter would monitor the police scanner and respond to a motor vehicle accident in his wrecker. He often would be the first on the scene.

“So he figured, ‘If I’m going to be first, I should be providing some sort of medical care,’ ” Lowell said.

In 1963, Hunter’s Ambulance was born in Meriden with one ambulance and two employees. Fifty years later, Hunter’s has operations in Berlin, New London, Middletown, Yalesville and Old Saybrook. The company employs 450 people and has a fleet of 150 vehicles.

Vern Hunter graduated from the first ever Emergency Medical Services class in the state in 1971, and in 1980 became one of the first emergency medical technicians in Connecticut trained to start intravenous therapy on patients.

He was also “one of the architects of the statutes and regulations that provide the structure for emergency medical services as we know it in this state,” Lowell said, “He was a pioneer at the time.”

Lowell, a Hunter’s employee for 28 years, said Vern Hunter’s “devotion to providing the best quality standards is unparalleled to anything I’ve seen.”

“He was always at the highest level of medical training that the state offered,” his daughter Donna Hunter said. “Growing up, we always had (ambulance) crews in our family household, and all eight of his children were EMTs.”

Former Mayor Michael S. Rohde said Vern Hunter “took great joy in everything and in living a big life. He was especially proud of his family.”

Rohde added that, at one of Vern Hunter’s recent birthday parties, his family “paid tribute to him.”

“He was so touched,” Rohde said.

He also took a lot of pride in his hometown.

“He was a Meriden guy from the outside, and he kept a business on West Main Street when they started expanding and could have gone to any number of other places. That was a big commitment to our community,” Rohde said.

When Vern Hunter’s son Dan M. Hunter died in a motorcycle accident in 2008, the city reciprocated with commitment to Hunter.

The Meriden Rotary Club began a Meriden Motorcycle Megaride which started in Hubbard Park every year, and which Vern Hunter always participated in.

“Seeing him going off on his (three-wheeled motorcycle), I mean, that symbolized Vern: right in the middle of everything on his big yellow tricycle,” Rohde said.

Donna Hunter said in sum, “He made an immeasurable impact on many lives, and even surpassed his own expectations in that sense.” (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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