Bruce W. Edwards, retired chief of the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Services, received the 2017 Governor's Award for Excellence in EMS, the state's highest EMS honor, on November 11 in Norfolk during the annual Virginia EMS Symposium awards program.
After 49 years of service Bruce W. Edwards retired from the position of EMS Chief in Virginia Beach in 2016. He started as a volunteer with the Ocean Parks Rescue Squad in 1967 and went on to build one of the most innovative and agile Emergency Medical Services (EMS) systems in the country.
Edwards was the executive director of the federally funded Emergency Coronary Care Program (ECCP) in Virginia Beach from 1973 to 1975 which was the first all-volunteer program of its kind in the United States. ECCP certified several EMS volunteers from that program and many continued in EMS or advanced healthcare professions. Edwards was also a graduate of the first ECCP program and became one of just a handful of Cardiac Technicians in the Commonwealth of Virginia and received the certification number of 001! He also has the longest tenure of any AHA CPR instructor in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In 1975 Virginia Beach city leaders named Edwards to spearhead a new Office of Emergency Medical Services. The focus of that office was to coordinate the independent volunteer rescue squads in the city and help develop programs, training and budgeting to build a patient care delivery system. An important benefit was developing the foundation of strong relationships and alliances with other public safety agencies and healthcare providers to benefit the all-volunteer EMS system at that time.
Over the years, thousands of individuals joined the department through membership with their volunteer rescue squad of choice. Call volume has steadily increased from a few thousand per year to over 46,000 in 2016. Demands of more calls, more training, more paperwork, more technology and outside economic factors kept chipping away at the volunteer membership and in 2004, the City Council of Virginia Beach authorized the hiring of a few career paramedics and supervisors to augment the work of the volunteers.
Edwards also led an effort to partner with the city’s fire department, telecommunications department and police department to create the Emergency Response System to initially help ensure rapid CPR and defibrillation and more recently rapid Opioid overdose treatment and bleeding control.
When Edwards was 18, his father had a heart attack. “My interest in cardiac care came in part because of what my father experienced,” said Edwards. “Back then, no one really knew what to do. When I became the executive director of the Emergency Coronary Care Program for the rescue squads in February 1973 and then coordinator of EMS in 1975, I felt this was a key area we could positively impact, and I couldn’t be more proud of the progress we have made.” Last year, EMS achieved a 48% survival rate for patients it treated for cardiac arrest in the field. The national average is around 30%. [VBGov.com 2/5/16].
As a strong leader throughout many years in Virginia Beach with a Master’s Degree of Public Administration (1983) and a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education (1973), Edwards shared his talents and experience in many other areas as well. He has been affiliated with many organizations and committees and received appointment to some significant positions as well. Just a few of the more influential ones he has to his credit for the improvement of EMS and pre-hospital care in the Commonwealth are:
• Two appointments to the Governor’s EMS Advisory Board (1991-1997 and 2006-2013)
• Board member (1976-2016) and Executive Committee member of Tidewater Emergency Medical Services Council (1991-2016), and member or chair of various TEMS committees.
• Past Chair – State EMS Communications Committee (1991-1997), past chair Medevac Committee (2007-2009), and member of numerous state EMS committees including Executive Committee (2013-present), Financial, Legislative and Planning Committee, Do Not Resuscitate Committee and Advanced Life Support Subcommittee
• Charter Member and subsequent Life Member of the Virginia Association of Governmental EMS Administrators (1990-present).
• Virginia Association of Volunteer Rescue Squads Board of Governors (1969-1978; 1991-2002; and 2005- present) and Life Member
• Board of Directors, American Heart Association, Tidewater Chapter (1974-1987) and active CPR instructor
• Member, Virginia Volunteer Firefighters and Rescue Squad Workers Service Award Program Board.
• Vice President, Virginia Beach Safety Council (2008-2016).
• The first person to be appointed to the newly created State Board of Health EMS Community Representative position (2009-present) and elected as Chair the Virginia State Board of Health (2011-present)
Upon his retirement from the city, Bruce Edwards was named Chief Emeritus of the Virginia Beach Department of Emergency Medical Service and remains an active volunteer paramedic.
Recognizing a lifelong dedication to EMS in Virginia Beach, the Tidewater region and statewide, and these many accomplishments, Governor Terry McAuliffe named Bruce W. Edwards the 2017 recipient of the Excellence in EMS award. The award was presented to him by Virginia Commissioner of Health Marissa Levine, MD, MPH, EMS Advisory Board chairman Gary P. Critzer, NRP and Virginia Office of EMS director Gary R. Brown.