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Co-founder of Seattle Fire Medic One program, bystander CPR training dies

EMS leaders described Dr. Leonard Cobb as a giant, pioneer and luminary whose work “touched the lives of thousands worldwide”


Photo/Seattle Fire Department

By Leila Merrill

SEATTLE — Dr. Leonard Cobb – one of the founders of the Seattle Fire Medic One program and of bystander CPR training – died on Feb. 14. He was 96.

Steve Wirth, a founding partner at Page, Wolfberg & Wirth, an EMS industry law firm, described Cobb as an EMS giant.

A statement from the Seattle Fire Department describes Cobb as “a luminary in the field of prehospital care for patients with cardiac disease. His achievements are many, but perhaps the most notable was helping establish in 1970 the Seattle Medic One paramedic program at Harborview Medical Center and a year later, the creation of bystander CPR training for nonmedical professionals. Both of these programs have earned worldwide acclaim and inspired fire and emergency medical service departments to follow in Seattle’s footsteps.”

In the late 1960s, when Dr. Cobb was the director of cardiology at Harborview Medical Center, he became aware of the lifesaving work being done in Europe with prehospital cardiac patients.

“Cobb focused on resuscitation from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. With then-Fire Chief Vickery in 1969, Cobb developed a local program where specially trained firefighters were trained as paramedics and dispatched to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation, use a defibrillator to restore a normal heart rhythm, and give intravenous medications to stabilize the patient in preparation for safe transport to the hospital,” the SFD’s statement reads.

Cobb helped establish the city’s Medic One paramedic program at Harborview Medical Center in 1970 and a year later the Medic Two CPR training program.

He stepped down from leading Medic One in 1993, but continued his involvement with clinical research.

In 2008, Cobb helped establish the Resuscitation Academy, which seeks to improve survival from cardiac arrest by offering education and training for EMS managers and directors, EMS medical directors and their partners.

In 2010, the Los Angeles County Fire Museum honored Cobb and three other doctors – Dr. Walter Graf, Dr. John Michael Criley and Dr. Eugene Nagel with the Pioneers of Paramedicine Award – for their innovations and persistence in advancing paramedic programs in the U.S. Nagel died earlier this year.

EMS industry leaders are reflecting on Cobb’s legacy and his dedication to the EMS community.

“Dr. Leonard Cobb transformed our approach to emergency care. More than 50 years ago, he pioneered a partnership between the medical community and the Seattle Fire Department to “co-opt” firefighters to expand their responsibilities to become what we now know as EMTs and paramedics. This model has proven remarkably efficient and effective, and importantly has saved thousands of lives in our region alone and served as a strategy for many other communities around the US and the world. Dr. Cobb possessed a tremendous ability to engage many: public safety organizations such as Fire Departments, traditional medical providers such as physicians and nurses, and a spectrum of community perspectives. He leveraged this goodwill and collaboration with substantial clinical insight to advance public health. Dr. Cobb was committed to systematic measurement as a means to improve patient care, so he would implement new ideas to improve treatment for time-sensitive medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, and major trauma. We will miss his discerning questions, his quick wit, and his warm smile. He was one-of-a-kind,” said Dr. Tom Rea, medical program director for King County Emergency Medical Services.

Kim Duncan Martin, executive director of the Medic One Foundation, described the wide impact of Cobb’s work.

“Dr. Cobb was a pioneer in the field of out-of-hospital emergency medicine. He has touched the lives of thousands worldwide through his work. Medic One and the Medic One Foundation has lost a great leader and friend, but we will continue his mission to save more lives will live for generations to come,” Martin said.

Teacher, author and improvement guide for FirstWatch Mike Taigman said on Facebook, “There’s something poetic about a kind cardiologist passing on Valentines Day. May he rest in peace.”