At this year’s (2001) EMS Expo, Ray Bias of Acadian Ambulance, was ambling down one of the aisles in the exhibit area and came to a sudden stop in front of the ACPM exhibit. Lou Jordan, Rick Vomacka, and I were standing there doing what we do so well, shooting the breeze. Ray commented that he had to get a picture of the three of us together. I hope he has that photograph around somewhere since it’s the last time that I saw Rick face-to-face and it may be the same for Lou. Ray wanted the picture since it captured three EMS “dinosaurs” solving the world’s problems.
I met Rick around 26 years ago at the first NAEMT Conference I ever attended. At that time, I’m not sure what his role was in NAEMT but I do recall he was president of an EMS association from Iowa. In 1980-81, Rick served as NAEMT’s president at a time when the association was in turmoil. A short time later, NAEMT nearly ceased to exist. NAEMT’s very survival was due to the success of the PHTLS program (see below) that Rick was pivotal in launching from 1981-83.
Most of you “youngsters” in EMS may know little, if anything, of Rick but it’s important that when a true icon in our profession passes through and responds to his last alarm that we all pause a moment to reflect on what he or she has contributed.
Rick was a husky, affable guy who, outside his EMS activities, recaptured his youth on a regular basis through his involvement with his college fraternity, Phi Kappa. Early on, we found commonality of interests due to the fact that we grew up in the northeast, he in New Jersey and I in New York.
Late in the 1970s, Emergency Training Institute moved from Connecticut to Ohio. Most of the credit for ETI products went to the owner, Alex Butman, but if you’ll look at the bullet list, you’ll see that Rick was the “brains” behind some of ETI’s most successful publications and projects. The fact of the matter is that, typical of almost everything Rick has ever contributed to EMS, he worked quietly in the background editing, writing copy, supervising photo shoots and making certain that what was produced was of good quality.
In the early 1980s, a core group in NAEMT decided that a shadow course of the American College of Surgeons’ ATLS course was needed for paramedics. Thus was born the Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support course. PHTLS became one of Rick’s principle passions in the early 1980s and he, with a few other dinosaurs/stalwarts, conducted the pilot courses and regional faculty workshops in ‘82-’83. Some of these courses were a bit comical, behind the scenes, as lectures were being revised in the hallways while courses were being presented. But believe it or not, this is how progress takes place and what happens when well-intentioned people of a single purpose get together.
For a period of five years, Rick served as the Military Coordinator of PHTLS and, as one who works with the military on a regular basis myself, it always amused me to have Rick tell me to look up so-and-so when I visited one installation or another. Rick not only coordinated their PHTLS efforts but made an amazing number of friends in the military all over the United States. And I’m sure that two awards for which he was extremely proud were the Outstanding Service Medal from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and the “Palm of Appreciation” from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Brigade, 3rd Marine Division. While not a veteran, Rick developed a particular affinity for military personnel with whom he had contact through his PHTLS efforts.
Rick served as a Board member for the Special Operations Medical Association and as a faculty member of The American College of Prehospital Medicine. His service as an ACPM faculty member is something he did in an exemplary fashion. His legacy to ACPM and its future students is a course that was his idea and that he developed: HST 222 – EMS History. Until a mere three days before his death he continued to respond to his students needs and inquiries but in a communiquè to us at that time he simply stated ” cancel all students, only a few days left.”
In closing, Dr. Richard Judd commented to me his reflections on Rick’s life and death and it seems a fitting way to close this testimonial to my friend:
In times like these all of us attempt to make comparisons. September 11th immediately comes to mind, particularly the despair over the profanity of the terrorists’ acts. The parallels involve death. On the one hand, the death of thousands, and for the Vomacka family and for us, the death of one beloved and respected person, Rick. Both have local, national, and international dimensions, but then the comparisons change, and we come back to focus on the death that concerns us now. Death forces a grace period on all of us. It allows us the opportunity to take cues from the continuity of the person who has died, in this case, Rick Vomacka. It is as Heraclitus said 1500 years ago:
“Mortals and immortals, living in each others’ deaths, dying in each others’ life.”
Richard W. Vomacka is 10-7.