BOSTON — Dr. Erwin Hirsch, the German-born chief of trauma surgery at Boston Medical Center who died in a boating accident Friday, was remembered Saturday as much for his gruff exterior as he was for the thousands of lives he saved, directly and indirectly, over his remarkable 25-year career.
“Erwin was a funny guy, a curmudgeon, a crusty kind of a guy,” said retired Boston EMS Superintendent Jon Levine, who wheeled countless near-dead bodies into Hirsch’s emergency room.
“He pushed people to be better,” Levine said. “A lot of people misinterpreted that, but down to the bottom of his soul, I think he had one mantra his whole life: Be good to patients, do the best for them.”
Levine said modern Boston EMS owes its existence to Hirsch, who oversaw it from its early days and was a tireless advocate for the men and women in the trucks throughout his career at City Hospital.
“He was the one who made the push that it had to be a medical orientation,” Levine said. “If you look at other places, you’ll see towns where the fire department does it. He wanted the primary focus to be medicine. It couldn’t be secondary.”
Levine said that before Hirsch had his say, when paramedics arrived at a scene they radioed the patient’s condition back to an emergency room doctor, who would then instruct them on what to do.
The paramedics would then radio those instructions back to the doctor to make sure they were understood.
To Hirsch, who was a naval surgeon during the Vietnam War operating in the field on battle-scarred Marines, the time and repetition put patients’ lives at risk.
“Erwin went ape-(expletive),” Levine said. “He’d say, `Why do they have to call it in and waste time? They know what to do. They’re there and they can do it better than you do.’
“He was the biggest advocate for EMS,” Levine said. “We wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for him.”
A person who answered the phone at Hirsch’s Marblehead home yesterday declined to comment on the doctor’s untimely death.