The EMS community lost an icon Sunday morning with the unexpected death of EMS educator Mike Smith. Mike, age 61, was a close part of the JEMS family for many years, writing as a columnist for JEMS and lecturing at many EMS Today conferences. He went on to join the EMS Magazine and EMS World team and served them well for many years as a columnist.
Mike was a “giant” in the EMS industry, not just in his commanding size but in the size of his personality, professionalism and passion for education. His heart was as big as his body and he had a deep powerful voice that could never be replicated.
The biggest compliment I can pass on to you about Mike was that Jim Page liked and respected him.
Mike lectured all over the country and was well respected by his peers. He was also a member of what I affectionately called the “EMS Rat Pack," hanging out with and going on annual fishing trips with Baxter Larmon, John Sinclair, Scott Bourn and other EMS leaders.
John Sinclair, one of Mike’s close friends and colleagues, wrote a very fitting note about Mike that he was gracious enough to allow JEMS to print. His words sum up what many others know about Mike and would attest to:
This morning I learned that my friend, mentor, fishing buddy and master educator, Mike Smith, died of a heart attack. Mike was one of the most passionate people I know. He loved his wife Sylvia and his two grown daughters Missy and Val, with true unconditional love. To them my heart goes out, and my thoughts and prayers are with them.
Mike was many things, but first and foremost a teacher. He was willing to work with anyone who was struggling, to make them better at their craft, their profession or their hobby. Whatever Mike did he attacked with intensity and focus, giving everything 100%. Whether it was playing racquetball, delivering a lecture, preparing a meal, sculpting a bonsai tree, fishing, preparing the perfect pot of tea, playing the drums, having a spirited debate or molding and mentoring EMS professionals to always do the right thing, Mike was on his game giving it his all.
Mike was a firefighter in Harvey, Ill., and became one of the first paramedics when the service started in the early 70s. He learned how to take a hose down a hallway filled with fire and smoke and also how important it was to hold the hand of a frail patient dying of cancer on their last ambulance ride to the hospital.
From the south side of Chicago, Mike moved to Iowa to teach EMS and craft first responders, EMTs and paramedics. While there, he learned about the hazards of farming, and it sparked one of his landmark talks regarding rescuing patients from heavy machinery. Mike then moved to Washington to take over the paramedic education program at Tacoma Community College.
Throughout his career, Mike wanted to reach as many people as he could: writing articles for JEMS and EMS/EMS WORLD magazines, giving lectures at EMS conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, writing for textbooks and inspiring others to do the same.
He was blunt and not afraid to share his thoughts and opinions with anyone. He was idealistic and filled with a zest for EMS and patient care. He loved people, and could be the best friend in the world or a formidable opponent if he thought you were unjust. Having grown up in Chicago, he would not back down from a fight when he was right.
From the first time I met Mike, right after his arrival in Tacoma, I knew he was a larger-than-life character. We crafted a friendship and had the opportunity to run calls on the street together as paramedics, teach together, go on fishing trips, play racquetball, listen to music, solve the world’s problems over a meal, and in general try to make EMS better.
Mike was a husband, father, son, firefighter, paramedic, teacher, chef, gardener, carpenter, builder, creator, rock-and-roller, drummer, aficionado of beer, tequila, tea, coffee, Chinese food (actually food in general), fisherman, artist, author, entrepreneur, athlete, mentor and friend.
He was a large man with a large heart, and love of his family--and life in general. He was passionate about everything he touched. His legacy will be his students and his family. Because of Mike and his life’s work, a lot of people have been saved.
As the Talmud says, “And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."
Mike, rest in peace, my friend. Your legacy will live on.
John Sinclair, Fire Chief
Kittitas Valley Fire Rescue