Former Pennsylvania Governor and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge coded in his JW Marriott hotel room in Austin, Texas, in 2017. He was successfully resuscitated by crews from Austin-Travis County EMS and Fire and is one of among many cardiac arrest survivors grateful for the contributions of America’s EMTs and paramedics.
Ridge was the opening keynote speaker yesterday at the annual meeting of the National Association of EMS Physicians, being held this week at the same JW Marriott in Austin where Ridge experienced his “life incident.”
During his address, Secretary Ridge reviewed his history with EMS. He began with his days in the military, where he and his military colleagues appreciated the role of “medics,” key personnel they relied upon to keep them alive and rapidly transport them from harm’s way in remote areas.
As a Congressman, Ridge gained an appreciation for the role of FEMA. And, as Governor of Pennsylvania, he learned to appreciate the need for volunteers and the role of EMS at mass casualty incidents. He recalled arriving at the United Airlines Flight 93 crash site in Schanksville on 9/11 and seeing “dozens of EMS, fire and rescue units and crews, staged in hope of recovering survivors” who then had to deal with body recoveries and its “associated stress and trauma.” He never forgot that scene during his tenure as the nation’s first Homeland Security Director.
And then there was that night in Austin in 2017, when he felt sick while in his hotel room. He tried to ignore the symptoms that he was feeling, but eventually gave in and finally called the front desk and said, “I need help!” He woke up 5 days later alive and well.
Secretary Ridge finally got a chance to meet and thank the Austin-Travis County personnel who saved him and who did not give up on him when he “flatlined” three times en route to the hospital.
Reflecting on his cardiac arrest “incident,” Ridge emotionally said, “I am ‘Exhibit A’ for what you do!” He concluded his remarks by noting that he feels it’s so unfortunate and regrettable that many people think of police and firefighters as the true first responder heroes, and that they neglect to recognize the key role and contribution of EMS personnel. It was a closing remark greatly appreciated by the NAEMSP audience.