Paramedic educator was mentor, friend to former students

Staff writerOctober 31, 2013 

Those who knew paramedic educator Mike Smith said he was cared for in some of his last moments with the compassion and professionalism he taught his students for more than 25 years.

During his career at Tacoma Community College, Smith trained an estimated 1,300 paramedics, many of whom work throughout Puget Sound. So West Pierce Fire & Rescue officials said it was no surprise that one of those who responded Oct. 12 to a 911 call at Smith’s University Place home was a former student.

Smith died the next day at Tacoma General Hospital after suffering a heart attack. He was 60. Of about 500 people who attended Smith’s funeral Oct. 21, more than 250 were uniformed firefighters and paramedics, many of whom he had trained.

Five West Pierce personnel, including three paramedics, responded to Smith’s home and initially cared for him. His wife, Sylvia, a registered nurse, also helped. 

One of the paramedics was Dave Kuhn, a student of Smith’s 20 years ago.

“He was the consummate educator,” Kuhn said of Smith. “A take-care-of-people, compassionate guy. And he was funny. God, he was funny.” 

Even when he was getting care instead of teaching about it.

“I told Mike: ‘Be a good patient,’ ” Kuhn said. “He said he was going to be a great patient, and he was.”

Battalion Chief Bill Barber said Smith was alert as he was taken to the hospital and that the crew taking care of him worked to put him at ease.

“There was a light banter going on between the crew and Mike,” Barber said, “trying to give a little levity to the situation, talking about Mike evaluating their skills and their performance in the field and their professionalism and compassion and such.”

Paramedic Greg Reimann said he interpreted Smith’s EKG, then said good-naturedly: “Hey, Mike, you know what’s going on. Take a look at it.”

He did.

The initial tests raised no red flags, Barber said, but there was a general feeling that everything was not right. Smith’s condition worsened at the hospital, and he died the next day.

Smith got the best care he could have received, his friends said, and it was a shock when they heard of his passing.

Reimann asked Smith on the way to the hospital how many paramedics he thought he had trained in Pierce County, or in the state, for that matter.

“Boy,” Smith said, “that’s a big number.”

As Reimann left Smith, he told him to come visit at West Pierce.

“See you around,” Smith said. “Thanks for the good care.”

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268



Editor’s note: A Page A3 story Thursday mischaracterized the circumstances of Mike Smith’s death. The headline mistakenly said he was an EMT; he was a paramedic educator. 


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