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The Alexandria Plan: A National Model

Emergency medical services once a rarity now expected.

In this post Sept. 11 era, the citizens of Alexandria and Northern Virginia enjoy a distinct advantage. They live at the site where around-the-clock emergency medical services was born.

Known as "The Alexandria Plan" it was begun at Alexandria Hospital in 1961 by two physicians who decided to relinquish their individual practices to become full-time emergency practitioners. Dr. James Mills and Dr. John McDade founded the specialty of emergency medicine.

This year that revolutionary decision celebrates its 45th Anniversary. Coincidentally, this year also marks the 30th Anniversary of the Alexandria Fire Department's Emergency Medical Service or EMS.

"Although the specialty was born here we have not rested on our laurels," said Martin H. Brown, M.D., chief, Department of Emergency Medicine, Inova Alexandria Hospital.

"There has been a great deal of progress over the years. We now deliver many more services to the entire community as well as providing expert emergency medical care at Alexandria hospital," he said.

That was buttressed by Victor Dymowski, director, Alexandria Hospital Foundation. "Alexandria Hospital was the beginning of emergency medicine. It's amazing how it has progressed not only here but nationwide," he said.

As the chief of emergency services for the past six years, Brown was quick to point out, "We were the first but we also want to make sure that we are the best."

Prior to 1961 emergency medical services at hospitals were provided by doctors who "moonlighted" in that area or did it on a part-time basis, according to Brown. "Some ER rooms were only staffed by a nurse. If something happened she would call a doctor to come in," he explained.

"Now communities and patients across the nation just expect medical emergency services to be available 24 hours a day," he said. "And they are."

With lessons learned during the Korean War, Alexandria was also one of the first to utilize triage type services as part of the emergency medical services literally in the field . This type of on-the-spot medical service at the site of an incident was particularly visible during the 9/11 attack at The Pentagon.

May 20 was the last day of National EMS Week recognized by fire departments nationwide. "Alexandria has the distinction of being the only municipal EMS program in Northern Virginia staffed by civilians who are hired specifically as medics rather than as firefighters taking a rotation through EMS," said Alexandria Fire Chief Gary Mesaris.

"Because of this we have true professionals who know their field and are known by the public they serve. Over the years, Alexandria's medics have become recognized as leaders in their field," he said.

In a display of mutual anniversary celebration, Inova Alexandria Hospital honored the City's paramedics with an appreciation breakfast May 17. Alexandria Fire Department established its first Emergency Medical Services or EMS in 1976, the bicentennial year of the nation.