Remembering ‘one of the good guys’
Mike Smith was larger-than-life and a friend, mentor and inspiration
Fire Chief John Sinclair of Kittitas Valley Fire Rescue in Ellensburg, Wash., considered Mike Smith a good friend, and sent this out as an email to many EMS providers across the nation. He’s given us permission to share with the larger EMS community on EMS1
By John Sinclair
On Sunday morning, I learned that my friend, mentor, fishing buddy, and master educator Mike Smith died of a heart attack. Mike was one of the most passionate people I know. He loved his wife Sylvia and his two grown daughters Missy and Val with true unconditional love. To them my heart goes out, and my thoughts and prayers are with them.
Mike was many things, but first and foremost he was a teacher. He was willing to work with anyone who was struggling, to make them better at their craft, their profession or their hobby. Whatever Mike did, he did with intensity and focus, giving everything 100 percent. Whether it was playing racquetball, delivering a lecture, preparing a meal, sculpting a bonsai tree, preparing the perfect pot of tea, playing the drums, having a spirited debate, or mentoring EMS professionals to always do the right thing — Mike was on his game and giving his all.
Mike was a firefighter in Harvey, Ill., and became one of the first paramedics when the service started in the early '70s. He learned how to take a hose down a hallway filled with fire and smoke and also how important it was to hold the hand of a frail patient dying of cancer on their last ambulance ride to the hospital. From the south side of Chicago, Mike moved to Iowa to teach EMS and craft the area's first responders, EMTs, and paramedics. While there, he learned about the hazards of farming, and it sparked one of his landmark talks regarding rescuing patients from heavy machinery. Mike then moved to Washington state to take over the paramedic program at Tacoma Community College.
Throughout his career Mike wanted to reach as many people as he could. He wrote articles for JEMS and EMS Magazines, gave lectures at EMS conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, wrote for textbooks, and inspired others to do the same.
He was blunt and not afraid to share his thoughts and opinions with anyone. He was idealistic and filled with a zest for EMS and patient care. He loved people, but he could be a formidable opponent if he thought you were unjust. Having grown up in Chicago, he would not back down from a fight when he knew he was right.
From the first time I met Mike, right after his arrival in Tacoma, I knew he was a larger-than-life character. We crafted a friendship and had the opportunity to run calls on the street together as paramedics, teach together, go on fishing trips, play racquetball, listen to music, solve the world's problems over a meal, and in general try to make EMS better.
Mike was a husband, father, son, firefighter, paramedic, teacher, chef, gardener, carpenter, builder, creator, rock-and-roller, drummer, aficionado of beer, tequila, tea, coffee, Chinese food — actually, food in general; fisherman, artist, author, entrepreneur, athlete, mentor and friend. He was a large man with a large heart, and love of his family and life in general. He was passionate about everything he touched.
His legacy will be his students and his family. Because of Mike and his life's work, a lot of people have been saved
As the Talmud says, "And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world."
Mike, rest in peace, my friend. Your legacy will live on.