Administration and Leadership, Columns

The Man Behind the Journal: An Inside Look at Who Jim Page Really Was

Issue 2 and Volume 40.

March will mark the 35th anniversary of JEMS. I’ve been with JEMS for two decades, but was a reader since its inception in 1980 when its name changed from Paramedics International to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.

In 1979, Jim Page surveyed dozens of EMS industry personnel and determined the field of EMS wasn’t being adequately served by existing EMS publications. He decided to do something about it.

His first step was to buy the 4-year-old quarterly publication Paramedics International from a paramedic who was going through a divorce and wanted to make sure the publication didn’t get lost in the settlement. So, he sold it to Jim for just $1. (It turned out to be quite an investment for Jim, and for you, our readers!)

Jim convinced Keith Griffiths to leave Emergency Magazine, and they renamed and relaunched Paramedics International in March of 1980 as JEMS, and made it a monthly publication.

In the last issue of Paramedics International (fall 1979), Jim wrote, “Yes, there is a need for this publication. And we’re gonna do our damnest to fill that need. Without disrespect to, nor lack of appreciation for, our predecessors at Paramedics International, we’ll be making some big changes … We’ll continue to keep our fingers on the pulse of EMS. We’ll be tackling topics that need to be explored and reported. Some of our exploration and reporting will cause discomfort. So be it … We will be trying to be that credible advocate for the emergency patient and those systems that can give him the best possible chance to survive and return to an active and productive life.”

The cover of the first issue of JEMS exhibited the covers of the other magazines being published at the time that had a focus on prehospital care. Jim did this to make a statement to the industry: JEMS was a journal that intended to take on important clinical, management and operational issues in a more innovative and comprehensive manner than the competition.

He held true to his word and convinced me (and probably you) JEMS was the publication I had to read cover-to-cover every month if I wanted to be up on the latest issues and clinical practices in EMS.

In January 2000, when JEMS celebrated its 20th anniversary, Jim wrote in his publisher’s column,

“You had to be there 20 years ago to really understand our compulsion to create JEMS. It had only been a few years since the term ‘EMS’ began to replace ‘first aid’ and ‘ambulance service’ … Twenty years ago, one doctor vowed that a bunch of ‘half-trained firemen’ would never get approval to defibrillate in his town. … In those days, being an advocate for EMS was risky and lonely.”

Knowing Jim

To understand and appreciate what JEMS has contributed to the EMS industry, you really have to understand Jim Page. I met Jim in the late-‘70s when an attendee at a cardiac care conference introduced me—a young inquisitive EMS administrator—to him because I had questions about EMS system development.

All I knew at the time was that he was the executive director of the Advanced Coronary Treatment Foundation in New Jersey. I wasn’t aware he was a former Los Angeles County battalion chief, technical advisor for the hit TV series Emergency!, and an accomplished author and attorney.

What I soon learned was that he was passionate about EMS, a consummate professional and a great source of information. More importantly, as a young, eager-to-learn EMS director in eastern Pennsylvania, I was impressed that Jim always returned my phone calls the same day, often late in the evening. He was never too busy to give me invaluable advice. I later found out he did the same for many others who were sincere in their interest to improve EMS.

When I took on the mayor of Bethlehem, Pa., and its city council over their resistance to advance to ALS, Jim called it “The Battle of Bethlehem” in Paramedics International. He gave me invaluable data to throw at the uneducated elected officials who thought BLS was sufficient for their residents.

The mayor had the EMS division lock up defibrillators that were donated by a prominent cardiologist after a neighbor and close friend collapsed and died after receiving only CPR care by EMTs (whom the physician learned were certified paramedics when serving with a neighboring volunteer ALS service).

I won that battle and learned a great deal from Jim in the process, particularly to present accurate, compelling data and to “always have an ace in your pocket.” In this case, what Jim meant by an “ace” was an illustrative example of how ALS works and, more importantly, the minimal cost and significant benefits of ALS.

Joining JEMS

Seventeen years later, after Jim mentored me on many battles and projects, he and Keith Griffiths asked me to move to California to join the JEMS team. It was a life-changing experience. To work for your mentor is a magnificent thing. To work for Jim Page was beyond my dreams.

But, the amazing thing was that I wasn’t just hired by Jim and Keith; I was assimilated into an organization that had a well-established culture in which sincere, dedicated employees thrived.

What also amazed me was that the employees recruited by Jim weren’t always the most experienced in their area, but they possessed a willingness to listen, learn and agree to the mission of JEMS; to be the best publication in the industry and carry out work in an ethical manner with the customer as our top priority.

There was one line in our mission statement that I will never forget. It said, “We encourage our employees to make mistakes.” The reason Jim had that statement placed in the mission statement was because he didn’t want JEMS employees to be afraid to push the envelope, be innovative and take actions that would help our readers and the patients they served.

He also often cited a quote attributed to Mark Twain that said, “Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” He knew the significant “reach” and impact JEMS had, and made sure our employees, advertisers and our readers knew it too.

I remember coming home from a conference deep in the Ozark Mountains where a small EMS agency told me about a significant, consistent equipment failure in one of our advertisers’ products. It really bothered me, so I went into the office early Sunday morning when I knew Jim would be there writing and answering his mail.

When I told Jim what I had been told, he told me to research the issue and come back to him ASAP. I did, and learned several big EMS and fire services were being given replacement equipment for a known problem while smaller systems weren’t being told that a problem existed at all. I tried to get confirmation from the manufacturer, but they wouldn’t call me back.

I went back to Jim and asked for his advice. It was simple and direct. He said, “Contact them one more time and, if they won’t confirm or deny the issue, run a piece on it in the next issue of JEMS.” The editor and fighter in me were thrilled to hear his advice, but the administrative side made me remind him they were a prominent advertiser.

Jim listened to my words of concern and simply asked, “A.J., could you sleep at night knowing that that piece of equipment could fail during the care of your mother?”

His words hit me like a bucket of cold water.

“We have a responsibility to serve as advocates for our readers. You know what to do.”

I exposed the problem in the next issue and the advertiser immediately canceled the rest of their ads for the year. I returned to Jim with the news. He smiled and said, “They’ll be back as soon as they realize they were at fault—not JEMS.”

Our editorial not only caused the manufacturer to fix the problem, it resulted in them changing many of their processes. In fact, they invited Jim to meet with their senior staff to tell them how they should avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Jim told them that, similar to what happened with the Challenger space shuttle disaster, when Morton Thiakol officials refused to step forward and have the shuttle’s launch halted despite knowing it had inexpensive O rings that were destined to fail if subjected to freezing conditions, they needed to allow their field reps to flag a product as soon as a problem or failure was reported. They did so and gratefully returned to the pages of JEMS.

While some labeled Jim a rebel and others claimed he was pro fire service EMS, both groups were dead wrong. Jim was always ahead of his time. Long before AEDs were accepted in the community, Jim said he wanted them placed everywhere there was a fire extinguisher, because he saw more cardiac death than fire incidents.

It’s ironic there wasn’t a single AED in place at the facility where he collapsed while taking his daily laps in the pool. The resort has since been torn down, replaced by a Lowe’s hardware store. I smile as I walk past the fire extinguisher display and the store’s AED, knowing that Jim would be glad the resort was leveled and replaced by a firm that “gets it.”

And, despite being a man who loved firefighting, incident command and the organized way in which the fire service attacked all hazards, Jim was first and foremost an advocate for quality, disciplined dedication and equality.

Right before he passed away in 2004, Jim gave an emotional speech at the International Association of Fire Fighter’s Fire-Rescue Med conference, noting there were still fire departments—and more specifically, fire officers—that still refused to embrace EMS and respect the people who deliver it.

He mentioned how civilian employees in some fire departments were still forbidden to sit at the same dinner table with the firefighters. He told the crowd that, if it was within his power, he’d have all fire officers placed on a six-month probationary period so they could be terminated if they allowed that insane, childish practice to continue.

Conclusion

I’ve barely scratched the surface about who Jim Page really was and why JEMS has succeeded in the EMS industry. Those of us who knew him well appreciate the lessons he taught us so much that, to this day, we still use the acronym WWJD when making decisions on important issues. What would Jim do?