Whether it’s a call from a private home or a business, an automobile accident on the Beltway or a terrorist attack at the Pentagon, Alexandria's Emergency Medical Services and professionally trained paramedics personify the "first" in first responders.
Last Thursday night, in Inova Alexandria Hospital's auditorium, the visionaries who recognized the need for a unit within the Alexandria Fire Department of professionally trained medical specialists, rather than cross-trained firefighters, were honored as recipients of the Alexandria Medical Council's first "Founders' Awards." It also celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Alexandria EMS as a stand-alone specialty.
Paid particular tribute were Drs. John P. McDade and Chalmers A. Loughridge, the two physicians at then Alexandria Hospital who perceived the need for a paramedic specialty and made that happen in Alexandria before any other jurisdiction in the nation. They were joined in recognition by the late Gerald R. Fair, Alexandria's first EMS director; Jean O. Dunham, former Alexandria Hospital Emergency Director; and Steve Meyerson, former director of planning, assistant administrator and vice president of marketing at Alexandria Hospital.
"It was in 1976 Alexandria's Fire Department decided to replace its Firefighter Emergency Medical Technicians — essentially first aid and CPR technicians — with a highly professional service, beginning under the leadership of Gerald R. Fair, director of the new division," said Pamela Copley, chair, EMS Council, who served as the evening's mistress of ceremony.
"With the acquisition of new telemetry and communications equipment, this new division began, on July 15, 1977, to provide advanced life support services. Today, the advanced medical protocols and exceptional response times of Alexandria EMS remain the envy of the nation, if not the world, largely due to a level of commitment by EMS personnel and leadership and commitment of emergency medical doctors at Inova Alexandria Hospital," Copley said.
THAT DEDICATION and commitment was personified by doctors McDade and Loughridge. McDade served as Alexandria's first EMS medical director and structured the original unit. Loughridge was one of four original Alexandria physicians who established the Alexandria EMS Plan, according to Dr. James Vafier, Alexandria's Operational Medical Director, who presented Founders' Awards to McDade and Loughridge.
Vafier was also praised by Copley for making "such a commitment to the quality of our emergency medical services — ensuring that world-leading standards of medical protocols are being brought to patients in the field by our medics, before they even reach the hospital." Vafier was the first physician at the scene of the 9-11 Pentagon attack and established the initial triage unit in conjunction with Alexandria paramedics.
"What makes Alexandria EMS so exceptional is that this department is small enough to make it possible for our paramedics to specialize. When John McDade set it up it was set up properly. In Alexandria every one of our medics is a special medic. They excel in being specialized. John McDade has always been the father of Alexandria EMS, and always will be," Vafier told the audience filling the hospital auditorium.
In accepting the award, McDade acknowledged, "When I started my career one thing was for sure — if you had an emergency the last place you wanted to be was in the emergency room. It was usually staffed by interns. That's why the first thing we did was establish a professional Emergency Department."
That was buttressed by Loughridge. "What makes Alexandria EMS so good are the paramedics," he said in accepting his award from Vafier.
"This evening is all about community support. It's very important for government to provide for its citizens but we can't do it alone. We need the support of citizen groups like the EMS Council to help us," said Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille.
"I am very proud that Alexandria pioneered the very best EMS service in the nation and the world. Our EMS helps make Alexandria one of the best places to live. That was proven this morning when our EMS were the first units to respond to the Metro rail accident," Euille said in referring to the accident in which a MetroRail employee was killed and another injured when struck by a train near the Huntington station.
In presenting an Appreciation of Service plaque to Kathleen M. Barrett, Alexandria EMS training coordinator, for her 25 years of service and who officially retired at 5 p.m. last Thursday, Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris thanked Copley and the EMS Council for creating this initial event to honor the EMS.
"Our department is unique in that our EMS personnel are individual professionals. Most fire departments have firefighters serving as EMS. I am very proud to be a part of this department," Mesaris said.
Presenting Gerald Fair's Founders' Award posthumously to his son Jay Fair and wife Peggy Fair, was Assistant Fire Chief Vincent Whitmore, one of the longest-serving members of the Alexandria Fire Department and its present Director of EMS. "This was my father's life and we are very honored by this recognition," Jay Fair said in accepting the award on behalf of his father.
The final two Founders' Awards were presented to Dunham and Meyerson by Diane Dickerson, EMS Council secretary and a nurse of 36 years experience, 15 of which have been in IAH Emergency Department. Both Dunham and Meyerson were in on the ground floor of Alexandria's EMS restructuring into a specialized service.
HONORING THE SUPPORT of both the former Alexandria Hospital and today's Inova Alexandria Hospital, the Council paid special tribute to the hospital and, particularly, its Emergency Department staff. "Inova Alexandria Hospital represents the heart of our emergency medical system," Copley said in introducing Kenneth Kozloff, hospital administrator and IHS vice president.
"We are blessed to have professional first responders in this city. On 9-11 our EMS brought 25 patients from the Pentagon to this hospital. That day the Inova and Alexandria families came together like I have never seen before in my career," Kozloff said.
"We serve 50,000 ER visits per year. Our new 2010 expansion project will provide growth for our emergency services. It is a $70 million project. Ten million of that is to improve our emergency services. We are marking 30 years of partners in care — Inova Alexandria Hospital and Alexandria EMS," he said.
In closing the two hour event, Copley reminded the audience, "What we are celebrating here tonight is the reality that for the past 30 years the City of Alexandria Emergency Medical Service has saved thousands of lives, and made the lives of thousands happier and healthier. We share the knowledge that we can sleep more soundly knowing we are in good hands — those of the most capable medical team of any community anywhere in the world."