Remembering a Va. medic; LODD investigative report released

A report provides details on how Josh Weissman died from a 2012 fall from an overpass; we provide details on how he lived

My friend and colleague, paramedic Josh Weissman, died nearly three years ago. The line-of-duty-death investigative report was released recently (full disclosure: I assisted in writing the report).

Why an investigation was needed

Some colleagues questioned why an investigation was necessary after Josh fell from a highway bridge over a creek in Arlington, Virginia, on February 8, 2012. The obvious and immediate conclusion was that Josh made a mistake. He rushed to help; he failed to size-up the scene. He didn’t look before stepping off the bridge.

Josh Weissman.
Josh Weissman. (Image Alexandria Fire Department)

The more nuanced perspective understands that dozens of factors impact whether or not we return home to our families after each shift. Perhaps the report’s attempt to delve into these contributing factors will change how you approach an accident scene, and save your life.

Read the LODD investigation report

Go read the report now. It’s our responsibility to our friends, our colleagues, and our families to learn from these tragedies and not let them happen again.

Read about how Josh died — then come back and continue reading this column and learn just a little more about how Josh lived.

Josh, a determined recruit and a caring friend

Josh and I were in the same recruit class when we started as paramedics at the Alexandria Fire Department. We got along from the start — both of us were history buffs; both of us had suffered for years as New York Mets fans.

Josh’s determination stood out in those first few weeks with the department. During morning physical training (PT), he always pushed himself, often past the point where many of us would have given up.

During one formation run, he began to struggle to keep up with the group. A few of us recognized he wasn’t feeling well, but he persevered and did not quit. 

As the rest of us showered and got dressed, Josh finally admitted that he wasn’t feeling great. Just to be safe, our instructors told him to take the rest of the day off. 

At the same time, I discovered that I had forgotten my belt, an infraction that could potentially have led to countless push-ups and other discipline. I asked Josh, in his weakened state, if I could borrow his belt, since he wouldn’t need it that day. Never one to say no to a friend, he said “yes.”

Selfishly, I scrambled to put my uniform on and be on time to class. I put on Josh’s belt, but it was too big. I had to make a decision — I found my pocketknife and added a hole to the belt so it would fit me.

The next day, Josh returned to class, and I returned his belt. I apologized and offered to get him a new one, but he laughed it off and insisted I shouldn’t. I’m sure Josh never thought about it again, but I never forgot his willingness to sacrifice for me then, even if it was just an extra hole in a belt.

Josh, a partner and an educator

During the next several years, Josh and I worked on different shifts but frequently taught together or collaborated on projects, such as revising our department’s ALS internship program. I gained a few pounds and could probably use his old belt — without the adjustments I made. He turned to CrossFit and continued to get in better shape; I like to think that eventually he used the extra hole that I had added to his belt.

Prior to Josh’s funeral, a colleague mentioned that they did not have one of the pins for Josh’s dress uniform — one that designated he was the recipient of the local chamber of commerce’s “valor award.” I found mine and offered it, a small token of gratitude given much too late in return for lending me a belt, teaching me so much about EMS, and six years of friendship. I wished that instead of a pin, I could give him the gift of hindsight, the ability to go back in time and tell him that the fire was out, and no one was in the burning car, and that he shouldn’t jump over that guardrail.

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