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20 years ago, paramedic Bob Ervin died in the line of duty, killed while caring for others in crisis

PMG PHOTO: TONY AHERN - Jefferson County EMT Bob Ervin was killed on New Year's Day 2001 when he was struck by a semi-truck while laying out flares following an accident south of Madras. A memorial on the west edge of the highway at the accident spot has long marked the spot.

Defining moment

"It was in the morning. It was during the winter it was just getting light when we first responded. " Eric Macy describes the scene of a defining moment in his life.

It was New Year's Day, 2001. Most people were still sleeping off the New Year's Eve celebration.

Macy, an EMT studying to become a paramedic, worked his shift that day along with his colleague Scott Hudson and his trainer Bob Ervin.

"It was icy and foggy. We actually went on a non-injury accident," recalls Macy. The accident was on Highway 97 between Bear Drive and Falcon Lane.

As the tow truck crew worked to clear away the disabled car, instead of simply returning to the ambulance hall, Ervin set flares to warn drivers and protect emergency workers still on the site.

"The truck was coming down the hill. You could see it coming through the fog." Macy watched the whole thing happen from where he sat in the ambulance passenger seat. "The truck just locked up its brakes and slid into the ambulance."

As soon as the ambulance stopped moving, Macy and Hudson, both uninjured, crawled out and searched for Ervin.

They found his body crushed beneath a semi tractor trailer.

"It was difficult." Macy says Ervin inspired his career in emergency medicine. Now he had witnessed his mentor's death. "I honestly had to think if I still wanted to continue on in EMS."

Ervin's wife, Marian Morris-Ervin, listened as the scanner spilled bits and piece of the trauma. She heard an ambulance crew member had been injured. She didn't know who.

Then Bob's phone rang. He'd left his phone in his rush to get to the accident.

Morris-Ervin answered the phone. Emergency Medical Services volunteer Becky Stever had accidentally dialed Bob's number. She tried to back out of the call when Marian answered. "No, tell me, Becky. I can handle it," plied Morris-Ervin. In her mind knowing was better than the stress of not knowing.

"Marian," Stever said, "Bob's dead."

Somehow Bob lives on

Twenty years after Bob Ervin's death people who knew him reflect on how he changed emergency medicine in Central Oregon and beyond, and how his influence lives on through the people he trained and the lives he touched.

When Ervin came to Jefferson County EMS in 1994 he brought with him years of knowledge and experience from Saudi Arabia and from Metro West in Washington County. He took over as the agency's training officer.

Ervin propelled his expertise with a bigger than life personality.

"Bob had the most infectious laugh ever," remembers Rian Heckathorn. "Joyful. It resonated through the whole building."

"He had a huge heart. He loved being a paramedic. He had a passion for training," says Rodney Blake, who began with the agency in 1980 and saw how Ervin changed the organization. "He was our first paramedic training officer. He elevated our training and helped us all be better EMTs."

"We were starting to grow in excellence," says Morris-Ervin who also volunteered with EMS. "He drove the improvements."

His students repeat Ervin's signature lessons like a mantra:

— Details matter

— Keep learning

— Remember the golden hour

"You're trying to meet that sixty-minute window from pick-up to the highest necessary level of care," says Morris-Ervin, who is a nurse and appreciates those critical first minutes in emergency medicine.

Details could mean so many things. Heckathorn remembered Ervin's emphasis on professional appearance.

"We would always wash the ambulance after a call. We would always put the gurney back together and make it look presentable. We would always make sure we had a clean uniform and our boots were zipped up." Heckathorn says Ervin stressed the importance of first impressions. "Even if it's three in the morning you need to look good because that's part of the details of earning their trust."

Details could mean paying attention to what's happening to the patient. Ervin taught students to develop their instincts.

"If that little voice in the back of your head is talking to you, you better listen to it," Heckathorn remembers Ervin saying.

"One of the main things he taught me was to continue learning, continue your education because it is always changing," says Macy. "There's always more to learn so push yourself and push others to always be their best."

COURTESY PHOTO - This is Marion Morris-Ervin's favorite photo of her with her late husband, Bob Ervin. The couple met while he trained paramedics in Saudi 
Arabia. She's from Ireland. Here they attend a banquet at the Bunratty Castle in County Limerick, Ireland.

Bedside manner As well at teaching, Ervin lead by example. He modeled a compassionate and professional bedside manner.

"He had a way with elderly people and children, both ends of the spectrum," says Morris-Ervin. "No matter how dire they felt he would say something that would make them giggle."

"When we meet a patient we're going into their house. We're seeing them at the worst point of their life and we're coming into their personal space," Heckathorn recites the lesson he learned from Ervin. "It was very important that you have good bedside manner, that you were compassionate with your patients, that you earned their trust very quickly."

Passing the torch Dustin Miller says Ervin lobbied to get him into the Jefferson County EMS training program.

"He said, 'Stop letting in people from the valley. These are local people and they want to work here. This is what the program is designed to do, to support local agencies."

Miller remembers working with Ervin the night before the accident that took Ervin's life, but the lessons he learned from Ervin continue.

"Twenty years later those things are still in my mind and they're still a guiding light towards how I do my business."

Today Miller is the captian in charge of training at the Redmond Fire Department. "In my job I train new paramedics, so I pass that along to them, keeping that candle burning."

Macy trains where he works at Hoodland Fire, and says Ervin taught him patience. "There were times as students when he would come in on his time off and sit down with us and go over drug calculations and other things that were harder to grasp. And he was always willing to put in the extra effort to make sure we were succeeding."

Heckathorn has trained in Portland, in Vancouver, and now in Sutherlin, Oregon. He says he channels Ervin when he teaches. "I feel like that's made a big impact on how I function as a paramedic and how I function as a trainer."

Blake moved on to Medford soon after the truck killed Ervin. "It was definitely a big blow when he passed away it brought it home that this is a very dangerous career that I had chosen." He trained paramedics in Medford and trains them today with Umpqua Valley Fire Services.

"He (Ervin) was a huge impact in my life and helping shape my paramedic career and helped me take my paramedic career to the highest I could."

PMG PHOTO: PAT KRUIS - The Oregon EMS Cross from the 
Oregon Health Authority recognizes an EMS Provider who by act 
and deed represents the most 
outstanding achievement in EMS 
over an extended period of time.

Memorial scholarship From 2003 to 2008 the Bob Ervin Memorial Scholarship at Central Oregon Community College supported students who wanted to become a paramedic and serve in rural communities.

"I met a woman recently who was a single mom," says Morris-Ervin. "She said, 'I never would have gotten through school without your assistance.'"

Agencies from all over the state represented at Ervin's memorial service.

"The last call did me in," says Morris-Ervin. "Last call for 212. That was his number."

"He gave his life caring for other people," says Heckathorn.

"Even after 20 years," says Macy, "it's still difficult."

Fittingly, people he trained now serve all over the state carrying on the principles he taught.

Miller takes care of the flag and the memorial that marks the place Ervin died.

In many ways that flag represents the man who set the standard for the care you'll receive if someday an ambulance should come to your door.


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