Never Forgotten: Remembering EMS leader James O. Page

 

 
 
 

A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P | | Monday, August 31, 2009


This month marks the fifth anniversary of the death of James O. Page, JEMS founding publisher and the "father of EMS." Jim died suddenly on Sept. 4, 2004, leaving a big hole in many hearts in the emergency service community, but not our memories. Because of his profound impact on EMS development throughout the world, I and many of Jim’s colleagues thought it appropriate to reflect not just on his contributions to EMS, but also the individuals he affected, mentored and inspired. It’s important that we enable upcoming leaders in our field to learn from his legacy and carry on the fight for the improvement and further development of EMS. Like many in our profession, Jim was attracted to the field at an early age, signing up for his first job as a firefighter on his 21st birthday. Always a rebel who challenged the status quo and traditional fire service role in the community, Jim taught CPR when it was not yet formal nor fashionable in the fire service and was told to stop doing it (which, of course, he didn’t). Soon, CPR caught on, as did the fire service role in EMS and advanced life support. After a call early in his career that forced him to watch a young woman die needlessly because of the crew’s inability to administer subcutaneous epinephrine, Jim vowed to do all he could to right that wrong and improve EMS care delivery, not just in his department or home state, but worldwide. In 1971, the L.A. County Fire Deptment assigned Jim to coordinate the countywide implementation of paramedic rescue services. It wasn’t a very popular program in the fire service at the time. ALS was gaining acceptance in fire circles and a few hospitals when it met a strange twist of fate; Jim was asked to serve as a technical consultant and writer for the Emergency! television series. Jim insisted the program reveal the early struggle to gain traction for the ALS concept with emergency department physicians and nurses. He also advised that the cast should always act professionally and not be allowed to chit-chat while en route to calls. The show energized a complete generation, including myself, to emulate the characters of Johnny and Roy. Because he pushed the ALS concept so hard, Jim’s name became mud in the upper echelon of his department, but he didn’t care. When it became apparent in 1973 that he would never be promoted beyond battalion chief because of his strong beliefs, Jim retired from the department and accepted the new position of chief of EMS for the state of North Carolina. When he fought lobbying efforts to have the EMT exam read to illiterate course participants, he was fired by the governor, who worried more about votes than victims. So, Jim again moved on and then spent the next 10 years of his life championing the benefits of CPR, ALS and EMS systems as executive director of the Lakes Area EMS region in Buffalo, N.Y. and as the executive director of the non-profit ACT (Advanced Coronary Treatment) Foundation. Impressed by Mark Twain’s quote, "It’s hard to argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel," Jim got the opportunity to follow that advice in 1979, when a Southern California firefighter sold him the rights to a monthly publication called Paramedics International for $1. Jim turned the publication into JEMS and, along with Founding Editor Keith Griffiths, made it the world’s most respected information source for EMS. As an attorney, prolific speaker and innovative thinker, Jim realized advocacy for emergency service organizations and their people was best carried out by communicating the facts about EMS. This included innovations, needs, controversies, injustices, advancements, bureaucratic barricades and ground-breaking research—essentially championing what was right and wrong in our profession. Anyone who knew or worked with Jim quickly felt his passion for that mission and adopted his philosophy. There’s not a day that goes by that I, and many others, don’t make decisions without first thinking about what former Phoenix Fire Department Chief Alan Brunacini referred to at Jim Page’s funeral as "WWJD?," or "What Would Jim Do?" Jim was the brightest, most dedicated EMS advocate I’ve ever known, and I’m blessed to have known and worked for him. For more on Jim, go to JEMS.com and jemsconnect.com, read the special supplement on the "Legacy of James O. Page" and the tributes by Jim’s friends and colleagues on the fifth anniversary of his death, and provide your own thoughts and stories about Jim. We will collect them and ensure they’re archived in the James O. Page Collection currently under development at the UCLA library. JEMS Click here to read more tributes for Jim Page.


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Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, James O. Page

 
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A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P

JEMS Editor-in-Chief A.J. Heightman, MPA, EMT-P, has a background as an EMS director and EMS operations director. He specializes in MCI management.

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