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EMS loses friend and mentor, Lou Jordan

A true EMS pioneer and legend leaves behind thousands of mentees to carry on his lessons and move EMS forward


He wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the caption, “EMS Artifact: Start conversation at your own risk,” and walking an EMS conference exhibit hall with him was simultaneously a study in professional networking and an exercise in frustration. It didn’t matter if you desperately wanted to see the new Tracheoblaster 5000 video laryngoscope or get pricing info on the latest generation of high-fidelity simulation manikins (now with body odor and bad attitudes!), Lou Jordan wasn’t interested. He dealt in people.

Walk five feet down an aisle: “Say Kelly, have you met Rick Kendrick? No? Well, you’ve used his device a thousand times! Rick, meet Kelly!”

Walk another 10 feet: “Hey, do you remember what each point on the Star of Life represents? Well, meet Leo Schwartz. He designed the damned thing, he can tell you all about it!”

Lou Jordan (second from the right) was a 2005 recipient of the Rocco Morando Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo/National EMS Museum)
Lou Jordan (second from the right) was a 2005 recipient of the Rocco Morando Lifetime Achievement Award. (Photo/National EMS Museum)

Walk 20 more feet: “Say, there’s Dan Limmer and Bryan Bledsoe! They wrote your textbooks! Hey guys, join us for dinner!”

Five feet later: “Say, there’s Walt Stoy, the guy that wrote your EMT and paramedic curriculum! Walt, come over here and say hello to Kelly Grayson! Kid’s got important stuff to say about EMS, you two should get to know each other!”

Next aisle over: “Hey, Nancy Perry and Scott Cravens, come meet Kelly Grayson. The kid’s a helluva writer, you should give him a shot!”

Five feet later: “Hey, here’s Mr. World-Famous Trauma Surgeon! Hey man, what are you doing here, slummin’? We gotta run, but first, let me introduce you to Kelly Grayson!” And as we walked away, he’d say, sotto voce, “Guy’s no Dr. Cowley, but who is? He’s good people, though.”

And on and on it goes, leading a star-struck young paramedic through the throng, introducing him to his heroes until that disembodied voice on the PA announced that the exhibit hall was due to close in five minutes, and only then do you remember that you never got to see the Tracheoblaster 5000 demo, or fiddle with EMS Mr. Potato Head, or even pick up any schwag.

Yet at every stop, all those important people you met greeted you warmly, and listened to what you had to say, and accepted you as a member of the tribe. No one brushed you off or ignored you, because if Lou Jordan was introducing you, you had to be worthy. And likely as not, Lou took them around and introduced them in much the same way, 20 years before.

A person of integrity and honor

Watching him work a room was like playing the EMS version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, except it was no challenge at all, because there were no degrees of separation, much less six. Lou Jordan knew everybody. I once introduced him to a friend from the shooting community, Jim Curtis, at EMS Today in Baltimore. Jim knew everybody there was to know in the military and the shooting community, Lou knew everyone there was to know in EMS.

Predictably, they discovered common friends in less than five minutes, and we had to interrupt Quantico Old Home Week and drag them out of the hall to make our dinner reservations.

Lou Jordan was a genuine EMS pioneer, and I don’t think it’s stretching the truth to call him a legend. He was an Army medic, and one of R. Adams Cowley’s original EMTs, long before “EMT” became an official designation, and long before Cowley became recognized as the father of modern trauma care. In those days, there was no famous Shock Trauma unit in Baltimore. Cowley’s unit was informally known as “the death ward” because it was down the hall from the morgue, and it was where other surgeons transferred the patients they believed were sure to die.

Here are just a few highlights of his career and life:

  • Lou was one of the original 116 EMS instructors in the United States.
  • He developed and taught the training program for Maryland State Police and U.S. Park Police Med-Evac helicopter programs.
  • He was director of prehospital care for Maryland State EMS.
  • He was the man responsible for making Cowley’s vision of an EMS system happen.
  • He was Maryland’s state EMS training coordinator for many years.
  • He was instrumental in developing the EMS system in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • He was the EMS liaison for the FBI’s original Hostage Rescue Team.
  • He was the 2005 recipient of the NAEMT Rocco V. Morando Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • He was the founder of the National EMS Museum Foundation.
  • He sold more AHA and EMS textbooks than the publishers did themselves.
  • In his later years, he was a stalwart defender of truth, justice and the American way, which mostly means he loved haranguing the skateboarders annoyinging the good citizens of Taneytown, Md.

He was … well, he was many things, and I can go on for another thousand words and still not cover all of his contributions and achievements in EMS. But above all things, he was a friend and mentor to many thousands of people in EMS, over three generations. I’m far from being the only person he introduced around in those conference exhibit halls. You see, despite his many accomplishments, Lou Jordan was a humble and generous man, one who preferred to do business on a handshake, and most of his business partners and customers knew that Lou Jordan’s word was his bond.

He was generous to a fault, a quality that a few abused, but it didn’t dissuade him from helping the next friend in need. When my mother died, he was among the first to offer comfort and support. When my father died, he became a surrogate father figure, and helped me move past the bitterness and regret of my last few years with my parents. He helped me heal.

He was there for me when my daughter was born, he was there for me when I divorced. He published my first book. When I bought my first home and the mortgage lender demanded a much larger down payment than I had anticipated, a check arrived by FedEx the next day, with a note that said, “Pay me back when you can afford it.”

And I’m certain there are many other Lou Jordan stories similar to my own. That’s just the sort of man he was. He was, simply, a mensch; a person of integrity and honor.

Continuing Lou’s efforts to welcome new EMS leaders

In late 2013, Lou was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was already Stage IV when they caught it. He fought it for nearly four years, which was three years more than they originally gave him to live. In the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 25, 2017, Lou Jordan’s fight with cancer ended.

I’m not going to say that Lou Jordan lost his fight. Instead, I imagine Lou spending four years introducing cancer around the great exhibit hall of life:

“Hey, cancer! You’re almost as big a pain as these damned skateboarders that won’t stay off my sidewalk! Sure you guys aren’t related?”

“Hey, cancer, have you met radioactive iodine? No? Well, you two guys are gonna get to know each other!”

“Hey cancer, let me introduce you to chemotherapy. You guys are gonna go a few rounds. Hope you ate your Wheaties!”

“Yo cancer, have you met the rest of my immune system? Some of these guys have been known to attack squirrels in my back yard! They don’t sweat you!”

In the end, his cancer didn’t win. The exhibit hall just closed before Lou got a chance to introduce it to everybody.

EMS lost a legend and the skateboarders of Taneytown lost their nemesis, but Lou left behind the thousands of people he mentored to carry on his lessons and move EMS forward. Most of us will continue to honor his memory by welcoming new members to the profession, and maybe even spreading a little gravel on the sidewalks … just so the skateboarders don’t get too complacent.

I think that would make him proud.

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