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Jim Page: “The Father of EMS”

“I want to appreciate the time when moments are made into memories; I want to embrace them and cherish them and never forget they come so few and far between; I know that wherever life takes me these moments will always follow; They remind me of what’s truly important; It’s not just life, but living; It’s the journey, the destination and all the points in between; I must admit, it’s been a good life after all.”

This poem by an anonymous author was found on a small piece of paper in Jim Page’s wallet at the time of his death. As the poem says, anybody who knew Jim Page knew of his love of life and his family, as well as his extended family of EMS and fire professionals.

On Sept. 4, 2004, the fire and EMS community lost a special person – Jim Page, referred to affectionately and respectfully as “the father of EMS.” There is probably nobody in the fire or EMS profession today whose life has not been directly or indirectly touched by Jim Page. Jim’s career spanned 55 years and included serving as a fire department battalion chief; founding and publishing several professional fire and EMS publications; creating conferences; writing over 400 articles and editorials; giving over 800 public speeches, authoring five books, becoming an attorney; plus much more.

At the memorial service in Carlsbad, CA, on Sept. 16, there were many words to describe Jim: leader, pioneer, visionary, advocate, professional, mentor, communicator, humanitarian, gentleman, tireless, wise, passionate of belief and friend. But one thing is certain – he changed the face and the direction of the fire service forever.

We will never be able to calculate the millions of lives Jim affected. How many people became involved in EMS or became a paramedic because of the TV show “Emergency!” for which he served as the technical advisor, sometimes handwriting scripts? I count myself in that group, as I sat there in front of the TV as a 12-year-old child and never missed an episode of “Emergency!”

How many EMS systems came about because of not only his technical advice on the show, but his constant promotion, advocacy and support for such systems on a national level? How many people are now employed in those systems and chose to become EMTs or paramedics, even after “Emergency!” went off the air in 1977 because EMS had by then become a mainstay of many communities? And since almost every geographical location in the United States has some form of an EMS system, how many lives have been saved in the past and those in the future because of the sweat, advocacy, and efforts of Jim Page? We will never know.

Like many who knew Jim, I considered him before anything else to be my friend. Jim was somebody with whom I could talk openly and frankly. He would not only give me an honest opinion, but one based upon his wisdom and experience, with no bias. Frequently, he was absolutely right with his sage advice.

Once, he sought me out when he heard I was leaving a job as director of a county emergency service system for a position with a Fortune 500 corporation. He discouraged me and warned me against making such a move. Unfortunately, I did not heed his advice and found myself down-sized 18 months later with 102 other people. If I had only listened to Jim!

I cannot tell you the first time I met Jim Page. It had to be sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. But the reason I cannot remember is because it seems like Jim has always been a part of my adult life, whether I was listening to him speak, reading a column he wrote, reading one of his books or just chit-chatting in a conference hall somewhere.

I had tremendous admiration for Jim and his many attributes. I was immensely awed that Jim’s mind was like a steel trap. In April of this year, while at a Fire-Rescue Med conference, several of us went out to dinner one evening. Jim and I wound up sitting next to each other. During that evening, Jim and I made idle talk. Some of the talk involved events of the past that involved EMS and fire. As he usually did, Jim started naming names, circumstances, cities and politics of the events, then tied them all together in his conversation. What was always remarkable was that he never had to pause to recall what happened or try to remember a name. It was always locked in his memory. If Jim had met you in an airport 20 years ago, he would remember you, your name, what airport, where you were flying to, and other information about the conversation he may have had with you. But he also made you feel special, like you were the only person in the room and what you had to say was the most important thing in the world.

What he truly gave the fire service was EMS. He was a constant promoter, leader, visionary and advocate for the delivery of emergency medical services. As the technical advisor for “Emergency!” he helped propel the concept of delivering EMS in the fire service on a national level. When the show debuted in 1971 on NBC, there were only about six communities nationwide with trained paramedics. Overnight, as more people saw the show, communities began asking themselves, “Why we don’t we have such a system?” In 1973, Congress passed The EMS Systems Act, which offered financial support, technical assistance and other backing to encourage development and improvement of emergency medical services.

What also needs to be pointed out is that Jim was advocating EMS in the fire service when it was not a popular idea. The introduction of EMS into a fire department in the 1970s and 1980s, and even into the early 1990s, was viewed by many as heresy. Jim fought many fights for the inclusion of EMS in the fire service. I can remember Jim telling me that one fire chief got right in his face and declared that “over his dead body” would he “have sissy nurses riding on his fire trucks.”

The generosity of Jim Page’s personal time without compensation is also praiseworthy. Many times, he offered his time, along with his experience and insight, to many national EMS organizations or other causes that promoted EMS. Other times, he helped paramedics who he felt had an injustice committed against them. Last year, Jim called me from a brand-new motor home that his daughter and he had just picked up in Tennessee and were driving back to California. He was looking for information because as a lawyer, he was defending a paramedic he believed had been unjustly fired. When I asked him why he was getting involved – since he was supposed to be retired – he told me the paramedic had called him and asked for his help. And when he heard the man’s story, there was no way he could turn him down. I might add he was not charging the paramedic for his legal services – and he handled many cases pro bono for EMTs and paramedics whom he felt were being treated unfairly or unjustly.

Jim gave much of his time, energies and efforts to the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) EMS Section. Among his many contributions, in 1994, he spent two days facilitating a brainstorming session with the leadership of the IAFC’s EMS Section to help develop a strategic plan. Many great ideas came from that gathering that eventually came to fruition and dramatically impacted EMS delivery in the fire service.

In 1995, the IAFC’s EMS Section created the EMS Achievement Award, presented annually to an individual who has played a key role in creating and/or promoting non-clinical innovation and achievements in fire service EMS management and leadership resulting in a positive impact nationally. The first award went to Jim. During that presentation, it was announced that the award name was being changed to the James O. Page Excellence Award. Jim was humbled and honored. Not only did he say it, but you could it in his eyes and face. But that was Jim – a humble and modest man who did not seek out glory or credit.

At the end of the memorial service, at the request of Jim’s son, like so many times before during his life, the audience gave one final standing ovation for Jim and his contributions. I know my life, EMS, the fire service and many others are better because Jim touched our lives in a profound and powerful way, and for that I say, thanks Jim!


Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is deputy chief of EMS in the Memphis, TN, Fire Department. He has 28 years of fire-rescue service experience, and previously served 25 years with the City of St. Louis, retiring as the chief paramedic from the St. Louis Fire Department. Ludwig is vice chairman of the EMS Section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has a master’s degree in business and management, and is a licensed paramedic. He is a frequent speaker at EMS and fire conferences nationally and internationally. He can be reached through his website at www.garyludwig.com.

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