What’s the Purpose of a First Call Funeral Vehicle?


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Nobody wants to think about what happens after a loved one dies. There’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around this process, just as there are a lot of myths around what happens when you die.

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After death, there are a few different vehicles used for transportation. The most common vehicle associated with funerals is the hearse, but this isn’t the only car that transports the bodies of loved ones. The “first call” funeral vehicle is sometimes more essential, though it’s not often talked about. 

What exactly is the purpose of a first call funeral vehicle? What do they look like, and how do they differ from the well-known hearse? In this guide, we pull back the curtain on funeral homes and post-death care to share the purpose of a first call funeral vehicle, and when you need one. 

Post-planning tip: If you are the executor for a deceased loved one, handling the funeral and the rest of their unfinished business can be overwhelming without a way to organize your process. We have a post-loss checklist that will help you ensure that your loved one's family, estate, and other affairs are taken care of.

What’s a First Call Car for a Funeral Home?

The first call vehicle is a type of car used in the funeral service industry. This is usually a vehicle that belongs to the funeral home. It is used to pick up and transport the bodies of the recently deceased to bring them to the funeral home. 

When someone dies at home or at a hospital, their body needs to be handled with care. Most people aren’t equipped to handle the transport of bodies, and this isn’t something that first responders like firefighters, police, and EMTs do within their services. 

As soon as someone dies, the family has to begin the following process:

  • Declare death: Once a health practitioner or public health official has declared someone is dead, the family begins preparations. If the individual passes at a hospital, the hospital staff usually assists with this process. 
  • Contact a funeral home: The first step after someone died is finding a funeral home. The funeral home prepares the body for burial or cremation, and they also assist with planning a funeral service. 
  • First call vehicle: The hospital or family will request a first call vehicle to pick up the body to transport it to the funeral home. Very soon after death, the body begins the natural decomposition. As such, it’s no longer easier to carry or move. 
  • Handle with care: Funeral home staff are equipped to transport bodies via the first call car with care and considerations. Bodies are taken safely and securely to the funeral home to be stored until their family makes further decisions about the final resting place. 
» MORE: Online obituary that is 100% free. Honor a loved one beyond a newspaper.

Which cars are used for first call vehicles?

Just as hearse vehicles are incredibly easy to identify, the same is true for first call vehicles. These cars need to have space and stability to handle the transport of bodies of all shapes and sizes, so they’re generally minivans or larger SUVs. 

These cars need to be large enough to handle larger bodies, and they also need large, strong engines. In addition, a metal deck is usually installed to the rear section to ensure the body can be secured without worrying about it shifting during the drive. The windows are also tinted or blacked out completely for privacy. 

In modern times, it’s not uncommon to see older or retired hearses as first call vehicles. Instead of purchasing a new vehicle for these important runs, funeral homes and save costs by repurposing existing cars. 

Purpose of a First Call Funeral Vehicle

As mentioned above, a first call funeral vehicle serves the purpose of transporting bodies from homes, hospitals, and so on to the funeral home. Families, hospital staff, and other first responders are not equipped to transport bodies after death safely. First call funeral vehicles handle this intimidating task with care and confidence. 

The term “first call” funeral vehicle comes from the idea of the first call after a death. The first call most families make after losing a loved one is to a funeral home. These providers are a huge resource for families after a loss, and they provide guidance in practical next steps, including how to handle the body. 

Moving a body after death is no easy task. Not only does decomposition begin quickly, but this is also a highly emotional time for loved ones. Having a professional handle this process soon after death helps the family focus on their mourning and planning the funeral service. 

» MORE: An online memorial is a perfect ending to honor and celebrate someone's life. Create one for free.

How Do You Know If You Need a First Call Funeral Car?

When do you know if you need a first call funeral car? In most cases, you’re not able to transport a body yourself. If you want to transport a loved one’s body to the funeral home, you’ll need to check your state’s specific laws. 

In most states, you need a transporter’s license to transport a body. You might also need specific documentation before you undergo this process.

When in doubt, talk to your funeral home about the legality of driving your loved one’s body after death. Most states only allow licensed funeral homes or crematories to handle this transportation. 

You’ll need a first call funeral car if your loved one passes while:

  • At home
  • At the hospital
  • Living in a nursing home or long-term care facility
  • Traveling

Because most people don’t pass away at or near a funeral home, a first call funeral vehicle is needed in most instances. That being said, this is often included in the cost of a funeral, so you can rest easy knowing your loved one is under the care of a mortician.

Additional Funeral Transportation Options

Aside from first call funeral cars, there are other transportation options to know about related to the funeral service. If you plan to bury or cremate your loved one, their body will also need to be transported to the cemetery or crematorium. 

In addition, you’ll want to plan transportation for loved ones if you’ll be holding a graveside service or an additional celebration. Other forms of funeral transportation are:

  • Hearse: Most people are familiar with the hearse. This is used to transport the body within the casket, usually to bring it to the cemetery, funeral service, or another venue prior to the burial. 
  • Lead car: A lead car is driven by a member of the funeral home’s staff. It leads the procession of cars, including the hearse, to the cemetery, church, or service. 
  • Limousine or sedan rental: It’s also common for families to rent a limousine or sedan to hold close friends and family en route to the funeral service or cemetery. 
  • Escorts: Escorts are hired police officers who ensure the funeral procession has no trouble arriving at the funeral service, cemetery, and so on safely. These can be arranged by a funeral director. 

Each of these transportation options has its own cost. It’s a good idea to include all of this within your funeral budget, though it might not be what you think of right away when it comes to funeral planning. Safe, secure transportation is an important part of ensuring your funeral runs smoothly from start to finish. 

» MORE: Grief can be lonely. Create space for your community to share memories and tributes with a free online memorial from Cake.

The First Call: What Comes Next?

It’s hard to think about making that dreaded first call after the loss of a loved one. Luckily, funeral homes know exactly what to expect, and they’re here to help you through this entire process, starting with arranging the pick up of the body. 

Knowing that your loved one is in the care of professionals goes a long way towards easing the burden of grief. After losing someone important, you want to make sure their body is handled with compassion and kindness.

The first call vehicle is designed to help with this natural transition, and it can make all the difference in those first moments of loss. 

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