Administration and Leadership, Columns, Commentary

Remembering Visionary Boston EMS Captain Bob ‘Sarge’ Haley

Issue 10 and Volume 42.

I write this Editor’s page with a very heavy heart, having learned of the passing of a great friend and colleague, Captain Bob “Sarge” Haley who developed EMS special operations not only in Boston, but nationwide.

It’s somewhat ironic that Bob passed away on the 25th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, as it was one of many disasters he responded to, along with Hurricane Katrina.

Thirty-five years ago, when EMS was in its infancy, Bob was a pioneer in the training of new EMTs. Throughout the years, his innovative approach to training helped to mold hundreds of EMTs and paramedics into well-rounded, skilled clinicians.

Briefing the troops at the 2014 Boston Marathon.

An MCI Visionary

Bob’s vision was light years ahead when it came to emergency preparedness and planning for mass casualty incidents (MCIs). He had a unique, very tough leadership style, but his care and passion for doing the right thing were evident; he was loved by the men and women of Boston EMS.

Sarge’s expertise in logistics, special operations and prehospital emergency medicine led the way for multiple advancements in EMS. His passion for training and helping others translated into a meticulous approach to planning for the unknown.

He always thought outside the box, and explored concepts and equipment that weren’t traditional in EMS. His arsenal included special auxiliary vehicles, electric carts, EMS bikes, ambulance buses and large specialty trailers.

To Bob, it wasn’t about what EMS can do, but what EMS should do. A mentor in EMS and in life, his rough exterior masked the natural born teacher he was.

It was no accident that the response to the Boston Marathon bombings went as smoothly as it did. Bob’s unyielding efforts over the years got the right equipment, training and people in the right place.

Because of his preplanning, training and precise operational staging, his troops performed like it was a drill, with their actions saving countless lives.

When you watch the documentary produced after the marathon, discussing how Boston crews responded, you can hear in Bob’s voice the great love he had for Boston EMS, the challenge of special operations and the pride he felt for the way his people performed that day.

Some of the specialty vehicles Sarge and his highly skilled team proudly deployed and maintained.

A ‘Triage Tag Pipe Dream’

Few people know that in 1982, long before I moved to California to work at JEMS, I taught an MCI management workshop for Bob and his EMS colleagues in the greater Boston region.

Taking a break from the weekend-long workshop over a beer, Bob told me that he wanted a functional triage tag that could be used easily and on a daily basis.

He didn’t want, as he said, “one of those damn complex, awkward triage tags designed by some a** who never worked a mass casualty event in their life!”

At his request, I designed and produced a triage tag that met his functional needs and had a lot of important, concise information carefully placed on a small tag. It was produced in full-size and pocket-sized versions.

On one side, it had detailed patient information that could be read over the radio to receiving hospitals. Crews could use it on any EMS call or at MCIs.

On the other side was an easy-to-use triage tag that featured a simply drawn stick figure and the only tear-off “transportation stub” in existence at the time. The stub was designed to be pulled off and left at an MCI transportation area for on-scene patient charting and rapid reporting of information to receiving hospitals.

Bob loved it, and agreed to adopt it-if I could get him 1,000 tags in time for that year’s Boston Marathon. I managed to get him the tags, but to do so I had to order 5,000 of them. It was the only way to get a decent cost-per-tag price from the printer.

He used the tags at the Boston Marathon and on Boston EMS rigs. I kept the remaining 4,000 in my already cluttered garage.

At the time, my young bride wasn’t very happy with me for ordering 5,000 tags -and paying extra to have them shrink-wrapped. She called it my “triage tag pipe dream.”

A dual-purpose, daily use triage MULTI-TAG (circa 1982) that featured patient information on one side and a patient outline and a detachable transportation triage stub on the other.

Bob’s Special Ops Garage

During one of my many visits with Bob, he took me to a secure location and proudly showed me his “secret baby:” A large, nondescript, trailer that housed high-tech equipment, transmitters, generators and an easy-to-erect radio tower that would offer uninterrupted communications if a terrorist ever detonated an electromagnetic bomb (“e-bomb”) in Boston.

E-bombs use an intense electromagnetic field to create a pulse of energy that affects electronic circuitry without harming humans or buildings, temporarily disabling electronics systems or corrupting computer data.

The last time I saw Bob was at his office: A wire-caged area in a massive garage, with a desk piled to the ceiling with manuals, specs and other crap. This was Bob’s special operations garage-his pride and joy.

The massive police ‘rescue’ vehicle placed in Bob’s special ops garage.

While I was there, I noticed an armored police vehicle parked near his office.

An EMS supervisor had previously suggested that I egg him on and ask what an armored police vehicle-dedicated to retrieving injured officers and other victims-was doing in his garage.

Bob reportedly called and told them to “get the effin’ police vehicle” out of his EMS garage because it wasn’t a rescue vehicle. They moved it that day.

When Bob came into work the next day, the massive vehicle was there again-in the exact same spot-only now it had the word “RESCUE” lettered on each front fender.

I walked into Bob’s office and asked him what an armored police vehicle was doing parked in his garage. As anticipated, it set him off on a tirade peppered with words that could make your ears melt.

A Family Man & A Good Friend

Bob’s devotion to his family was legendary. Whenever you saw him at special events in Boston, you also saw his three children right at his side.

A family man first, Bob loved to brag about his kids, whether it was about his daughters’ dancing, or his son’s dream of joining Boston EMS, or how proud he was when his son graduated from the Boston EMS Academy. Thank God he had a chance to experience that before he passed.

Sarge was a true EMS icon.

Sarge was one of my favorite friends in EMS. The last time we saw each other, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to share a special moment with him.

As we parted ways, I gave him a hug-the type you give someone when you know it’s probably your last opportunity to tell them you love them without actually saying anything.

I had a feeling it was a moment that would last a lifetime. I’m so glad I did it.

Sarge was a true EMS icon, and like so many special operations leaders, he stood quietly in the background and grinned with pride at the way his personnel performed.

To be truthful, Bob was never quiet, but he always got the job done behind the scenes.

He will always be recognized as one of the true unsung heroes of EMS.

RIP, Bob!