Commentary, Exclusives, Spotlight

Five Career Debts of Gratitude

From left, Doug Wolfberg, Steve Wirth, Randy Mantooth and Jim Page in March 2000. All photos provided by the author.

I’ve been privileged to have been involved in EMS for over 40 years. From taking my first ambulance call as a volunteer in January 1978, to obtaining my EMT certification in 1982, to becoming a county and regional EMS director in the 1980s, to becoming an EMS attorney in the 90s, I have a lot on which to look back and be grateful for. As Page, Wolfberg & Wirth turns 20, it’s been a time for reflection, and I’ve thought a lot about the people to whom I owe the greatest debts of gratitude for their contributions to my lifelong calling in EMS. Although it is impossible to name everyone who’s had a major impact on my EMS career, there are five who stand out as those to whom I owe the biggest debts. In chronological order, they are:

Randoph Mantooth

Randy Mantooth and Doug Wolfberg in November 2018.

Anyone who came up in the 1970s couldn’t help but to have been influenced by Randolph Mantooth and his portrayal of Paramedic John Gage on TV’s Emergency. Along with actor Kevin Tighe, Randy introduced America to EMS – and in the process, set a bar for professionalism in the industry. Who wouldn’t want to be like these clean cut, All-American boys who could laugh and joke together in the station one minute, and in the next coolly, calmly and professionally handle a life-and-death crisis?

Somehow, I knew then that EMS was something I aspired to be involved in someday – although at the time I had no idea how that was even possible. It was almost a surreal moment in 2000 when I first got to meet Randy in person, and an honor to become friends over the course of the next 20 years. Randy continues to be one of the most passionate and articulate advocates for EMS in the United States and it is a privilege to know him.

Mark Wolfberg

Doug and Mark Wolfberg in 2017.

Not long after Emergency aired on TV, my older brother enrolled in an EMT class and joined our hometown volunteer rescue squad. I was flabbergasted. This was the first person I knew who took the desire to participate in EMS – and actually do it! To witness firsthand his dedication to EMS training – the seriousness of purpose he displayed in studying his EMT textbook and obtaining his certification – was almost unbelievable.

I pestered him incessantly to take me to rescue squad meetings and let me join the junior squad as soon as I was eligible. He was at my side the first time I ever performed CPR for real, and for hundreds of other calls in my early years in EMS. Even though I was the kid brother tugging at his sleeves for all those years, he never displayed anything but patience and professionalism as my first closeup role model in EMS. He went on to a 40-year career in law enforcement and remains an EMT to this day. And he’s still my big brother. 

David Lindstrom

David Lindstrom and Doug Wolfberg in 2016.

When I attended Penn State University from 1983 to 1987, I had the good fortune to meet David Lindstrom, who at the time was the university’s Director of EMS. David was the first person I met who had personal connections to statewide and national EMS luminaries – famous people in the industry like Jim Page, who I had only read about. David and I worked together to establish the first EMS program at any Penn State branch campus in 1984 (I got to give a speech introducing him and welcoming him to our campus!), and then when I transferred to the main campus he hired me to work on the University Ambulance Service in 1985. Along the way, he opened to me virtually every door there was to open as I transitioned from volunteer EMT to paid EMT to aspiring EMS administrator.

It was David’s name I dropped the first time I met Jim Page – providing an instant connection to another valued career mentor. It was David who set up my internship at our state EMS council, which led to my first gainful employment in EMS. I am proud and honored to remain in close contact as a friend and frequent dinner partner with this amazing man and 35+ year mentor to this day.

James O. Page

Jim Page, Doug Wolfberg and Steve Wirth at EMS Today in 2000.

Jim was the founder and publisher of JEMS, a former state EMS director, a pioneering EMS attorney and a contributor to the Emergency TV series which had played such a pivotal role in my life. While serving my college internship at the state EMS council in 1986, I had the incredible honor of meeting Jim after he finished his keynote address at our state conference. I had read countless articles he’d written over the years and admired him tremendously. Even though I was one of dozens of people who waited patiently to introduce themselves to Jim after his speech, I was flattered when I met him again a year later and he remembered who I was. I so vividly remember the uplifting, career-affirming feeling I had that “if Jim Page knows who I am, I must be somebody!”

Even today the memories of that second encounter with Jim in 1987 – where he remembered meeting me in 1986 – fill me with emotion. I later became a regular contributor to JEMS and worked closely with Jim over the ensuing years, and he made me aspire to become an EMS attorney and follow his example to the best of my ability. I was elated when he wrote me a recommendation letter for law school, and it became the honor of my professional life when we became law partners with the formation of Page, Wolfberg & Wirth in 2000. I was deeply humbled to have been asked by his widow Jane to give a eulogy at Jim’s funeral after he died in 2004. It was a deeply moving “full circle moment” as I paid tribute to a man to whom I was always be incalculably grateful. There is not a day that goes by when I don’t look at the “PWW” logo and feel a solemn honor of having my name linked with his on the law firm door. There’s not a day of my life I don’t think about Jim and miss him deeply. 

Steve Wirth

Doug Wolfberg and Steve Wirth in 2017.

I met Steve in the mid-1980s – neither of us remembers the precise date or place – but it is though we somehow just always knew each other. I remember being blown away by just how professional this guy was in every interaction I had with him. Steve was always calm, unfailingly courteous – and oozed competence in every utterance I ever heard. We moved in the same geographic circles for a few years – I moved to Williamsport to take a job at the regional EMS council a few years after Steve graduated from the first class of paramedics there – and he then relocated to Erie, PA to become the founding COO of a large ambulance service there. A few years later Steve decided to leave to attend law school and asked me to come interview to be considered to fill his position.

I remember my interview with Steve being one of the most insightful and exhilarating experiences I’d ever had. He was the first person to ever ask me in an interview about books I’d read – which lead to great discussions about history and the U.S. Constitution. When I decided to go to law school a couple years after Steve, he was always available to give advice. Although we were friendly competitors for a few years when we both ended up practicing at rival law firms in Harrisburg, PA, it wasn’t long until we joined forces, recruited Jim Page, and launched our law firm. For 20 years, Steve has been a collaborator, a role model, a perfect counter-balance and an inspiring business partner with whom I’ve been privileged to work as we’ve built the firm and other ventures from the ground up. Steve has nurtured in me a level of creativity and entrepreneurship in business that I could not have realized without him. With Steve, the law firm has always been a much greater whole than the sum of its parts. 

There are so many others who have been outstanding role models and mentors, and those who have done countless kindnesses to me and my career over 40+ years in EMS. I hope that none of those others will take any offense at my singling out these five individuals to whom I owe an incredible debt of gratitude.  Thank you to these five – and to everyone who helped me become the professional I am today.