Va. city renames EMS station after department's longest-serving member following his death
Former Virginia Beach EMS Chief Bruce Edwards, who died on Saturday at age 72, served as chief for 32 years and helped shape the organization
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The longest serving member of the Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services — a man who helped shape the organization — died Saturday.
To honor Former Chief Bruce Edwards, the Virginia Beach City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to name the Emergency Medical Services building in his honor. It is now The Bruce W. Edwards Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services Headquarters and Training Center.
Edwards, 72, served as the department’s chief for 32 years. He continued on as chief emeritus after his retirement in 2016, which allowed him to remain active as an advisor and mentor for the past four years.
“It is such a fitting recognition for Bruce who was a friend, visionary and mentor to thousands over his long and distinguished career,” EMS Chief Ed Brazle said. “His leadership and dedicated service built the largest volunteer-based emergency medical services system in the country.”
Donnie Edwards, Bruce’s son, said his dad was the protector of the volunteer EMS system during his time as the organization’s leader. Even as the chief, he was known to jump in the back of an ambulance for 12-hour shifts a couple of times a month.
“He would try to help in a way that made people feel like they didn’t need help,” Donnie Edwards said. “He was just a good honest family man. He was the kind of person we all want to be.”
Edwards’ death shocked his family, who has experienced two tragedies in one month. On Aug. 7, Edwards’ 43-year-old daughter, Patricia Edwards Mailand died unexpectedly. She had suffered an undiagnosed illness the past few years, Donnie Edwards said.
She is survived by her husband, Michael Mailand, and three children, ages 22, 15, and 13, among others.
The day after her death, her father went into the hospital for treatment of an infection, Donnie Edwards said. The family put Patricia’s funeral on hold so Bruce could attend. But he never recovered and died in the hospital with his wife, Jean, by his side, the son said.
“It has been a real blow,” Donnie Edwards said. “My family has been cut in half.”
Donnie Edwards said his dad had planned to become a teacher but was inspired to become a paramedic after his own father had a heart attack and the ambulance response time took a long time. At that moment, Bruce Edwards decided he wanted to know how to help his loved ones and neighbors during a medical crisis, his son said.
Bruce Edwards joined the Ocean Park Rescue Squad in 1967. In 1973, he became executive director of the Emergency Coronary Care Program of Virginia Beach, Inc., a federally funded program that created the first advanced life support technicians in the state.
Between 1975 and 1984, he was the coordinator of the city’s Office of Emergency Medical Services. After that, he became the chief of the Department of Emergency Medical Services.
Former Deputy Chief of EMS Bill Kiley said Bruce Edwards was responsible for uniting the city’s 10 volunteer squads under one umbrella in the 1980s. His vision for having a largely volunteer organization has saved the city millions of dollars, Kiley said.
“In those days, people couldn’t imagine that volunteers could take this enormous amount of responsibility and trust these people to do it without direct supervision,” Kiley said. “It is Bruce’s leadership that helped maintain the volunteer EMS. There will never be another one like him.”
The city’s EMS department ran with almost all volunteers until 2004 when the city began hiring full-time employees. Edwards oversaw more than 1,500 career and volunteer rescue and fire personnel and regulated private ambulance services and Oceanfront lifeguard operations.
When he first became chief of the department, EMS responded to about 8,000 calls per year. By 2016, the department was responding to 44,000 calls.
Bruce also served on the State EMS Advisory Board in 2006 and as the chairman of the Virginia Board of Health in 2011.
The family will hold a viewing for Bruce on Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at H.D. Oliver Funeral Apts., 2002 Laskin Road in Virginia Beach. Funerals for both Bruce and Patricia will be held on Saturday at Church of the Holy Family at 11 a.m. The service will be live streamed on the church’s Facebook page.
©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)