Paul W. Smith

Paul W. Smith was a pioneer in making emergency medical services a professional field and had a national reputation for leadership in standardizing the training for EMTs around the country. Smith, 75, of Plainville, died Aug. 15 of respiratory failure. (Family photo / March 17, 2007)

Paul W. Smith was a pioneer in making emergency medical services a professional field and had a national reputation for leadership in standardizing the training for EMTs around the country.

"He was one of the few people who saw the importance of strong standards in licensing and training," said Kenneth Threet, the emergency medical technician training coordinator for Montana and a longtime associate of Smith. "Paul was very outspoken concerning the development of educational standards, particularly a practical exam."

Smith, 75, of Plainville, died Aug. 15 of respiratory failure.

He was born in Brattleboro, Vt., on Oct. 29, 1937. His interest in caring for others may have been inspired by his mother, Winnifred Smith, who was a nurse's aide and ran a home for elderly people on the farm where she lived in Bernardston, Mass.

His father, Allyn, ran a printing company, but died when he was 13 and Paul Smith grew up caring for his two younger siblings.

He was active in sports, and for a time played semi-professional baseball on a Double A team, hoping to go to the big leagues as a pitcher until a shoulder injury put an end to that goal.

After college, he earned a master's degree in education from Springfield College, and entered the field of emergency medical services.

In the 1960s, a lot of medical transportation took place in funeral home hearses — the only vehicles large enough to carry a person on a stretcher. Many small companies provided emergency responses, but training and experience were inconsistent, and there were few standards that guaranteed the level of service.

Many of the medical responders knew only basic first aid. "If you had a pulse and could spell your name, you could work. Emergency medical services as we know it did not exist," said Blackmore Dawson, a friend of Smith's and an Internet technology professional who served as an EMT in Bridgeport and Stratford.

That began to change shortly before Smith moved to Connecticut to work at the state health department in 1977 as training coordinator for emergency services personnel.

"He changed the way emergency services were done," Dawson said.

Smith became president of the National Council of Trainers — state officials from across the country who would share experiences and try to set national standards. He was known as a workaholic.

"He was one of the few people who saw the importance of [setting] strong standards in licensing and training," said Threet. "He had a vision early on and was very outspoken."

By 1975, when Dawson took his EMS training, Smith had developed a cadre of trainers and evaluators, realizing early on that passing a written test was not enough. To be a good medical technician, a person needed not only medical knowledge, but an ability to relate to patients and a good "bedside manner," Smith decided.

There were technical skills and people skills, "and you need both," Threet said.

There are now three levels of emergency medical technicians in Connecticut: emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and medical response technicians. Statewide standards were imposed, and certification was required.

"Paul started all this in motion," said Dawson, an IT professional who served as an EMT in Bridgeport and Stratford.

Smith was a member of several national and state organizations and was a founding member of the National Council of EMS Training Coordinators.

The state Department of Emergency Medical Services had run a yearly conference for emergency medical technicians, but after it stopped sponsoring the conference, Smith, who retired in 1996, decided to organize it himself. He became one of the founding members of the Emergency Medical Services Educational Foundation, which has put on the conference ever since.

At the yearly three-day conference, there was an opportunity for emergency medical personnel to take classes, network with others and hear from leaders in the field about new trends. "Paul started all this in motion," said Dawson, who helped organize the conferences. "He was a strong advocate of 'What can I teach you that your service doesn't teach you?' "

Smith organized the conference for over 15 years. This year, for the first time, the conference is being co-sponsored by the Emergency Services Foundation and the state Public Health Department of Emergency Services. It is being dedicated to Smith.

The website advertising the conference contains this tribute to Smith: "He was man of the people and a very humble one indeed and an educator in every sense of the word. He freely shared his expertise and visions with all in the EMS profession. Gone but not forgotten, his good works live on."

In addition to his wife, Louise Turgeon Smith, he is survived by two children from a prior marriage: Scott Smith and Lisa Smith Pease, four grandchildren, two step-children, Sean Byrnes and Courtney Byrnes, and two brothers.