Dr. Leonard Cobb, co-founder of Medic One program, dies

The emergency medical response service, one of the nation's first, started with outreach by Dr. Cobb to the Seattle Fire Department. 

Dr. Leonard Cobb, 96, a co-founder of the Seattle Medic One paramedic program, died Feb. 14, 2023. He was a luminary in the field of pre-hospital care of people with cardiac disease. 

In 1968, Dr. Cobb was chief of cardiology at Harborview Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He took note of work being done in Europe to increase the survival of cardiac patients outside of hospitals. Dr. Cobb began talks with Seattle Fire Department Chief Gordon Vickery about whether firefighters could learn essential clinical skills and apply them on the job to save people who were experiencing life-threatening cardiac events.

A Medic One ambulance backs toward Harborview's emergency room, transporting a patient.

These conversations led to the creation in 1970 of the Seattle Fire Department's Medic One unit, one of the nation’s first paramedic programs to provide physician-level assistance to people outside of the hospital. The first class of 15 firefighters were trained at Harborview to provide CPR, use a defibrillator and give intravenous medications to stabilize patients for transport to the hospital.

Dr. Cobb “was willing to consider innovative approaches to delivering lifesaving therapy inside people’s homes,” said Dr. Michael Sayre, professor of emergency medicine at the UW School of Medicine and medical director for the Seattle Fire Department.

“From the very first patient, Dr. Cobb sought to review what went well and what might be done better the next time. His humility and sharp assessment encouraged others to believe in his vision. I am grateful to have known and learned from him,” Sayre said.

In 1971, Dr. Cobb, Vickery and Seattle Rotary No. 4 launched Seattle Medic Two to train community members in CPR. In a 2020 interview, Dr. Cobb said, “This was perhaps our most important contribution” to establishing Seattle as a leader in out-of-hospital resuscitation. To date, the Seattle Fire’s Medic Two program has trained more than 1 million people in CPR.

The Paramedic Training Program, still hosted by Harborview with the UW School of Medicine, has trained more than 800 paramedics since 1969.

picture of Drs. Michael Copass and Leonard Cobb
Drs. Michael Copass, left, and Leonard Cobb at Harborview Medical Center with a Medic One crew. (photo date unknown)

“Dr. Cobb’s and Fire Chief Vickery’s contributions to EMS cardiac care and CPR training changed the fire service and how we serve our community,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggin. “Dr. Cobb’s forward thinking and innovative contributions changed our profession for the better and has now stood the test of time for over 50 years!”

Dr. Cobb successfully advocated for the deployment, in 1984, of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) for use by emergency medical technicians. In 2008, he helped to create the Resuscitation Academy, a Seattle organization that helps communities develop and implement emergency medical plans to deliver CPR.

“Dr. Cobb was a pioneer in the development of prehospital systems of care. His research, focused on sudden cardiac arrest, has saved thousands of lives and his focus on continuous quality improvement helped establish a system of care that is emulated around the world,” said Dr. Eileen Bulger, chief of surgery at Harborview Medical Center.

Cobb is survived by his wife Else and two sons, Eric and John, and their families.

Written by Brian Donohue - 206-543-7856, bdonohue@uw.edu

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Tags:emergency medicinefirst respondersMedic One

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