Remembering Rich Adams

The fire-rescue service lost a great champion when Rich Adams passed away from a rare virus infection on Oct. 29, at the age of 53. Rarely are we privileged to know a person like Rich and I can describe him in one short phrase: "A man who had so much to give and always gave everything he had."

Whether it was his daytime career as a prize-winning journalist or his nighttime career in the fire-rescue service, Rich was always "fully involved." It was the same when he played the bass fiddle in our bluegrass band and, most important, Rich was fully involved when it came to being a husband, a father and a friend.

He was my friend and brother. I trusted and valued his advice and judgment. He had a sharp and disciplined mind, a common-sense logic that went to the core of any problem. Rich was a superb journalist, with a reporter's curiosity about everything and a great breadth and depth of knowledge on a wide range of subjects. He won Emmy and Peabody awards during the years he was editorial director and a producer for WUSA-TV, the CBS station in Washington, DC.

We came to know each other more than 20 years ago through our involvement in the fire department and our passion for bluegrass music. I was a volunteer firefighter and Rich an emergency medical technician on the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad. As the squad members will tell you, he was one of the best, the man you wanted as your partner in a tight situation. A sick person or an accident victim always got expert and tender care in the back of Rich's ambulance.

Our companies responded to a three-alarm, high-rise fire on a hot summer night, with the entire 13th floor of a 17-story building engulfed in flames. Many firefighters were overcome by smoke and heat exhaustion. When it was under control, every company was sent to an aid station to have their vital signs checked. Rich's station was an island of calm in the normal pandemonium of a major fire. (His first words to me were: "Are you OK, brother?") It was a reflection of the way Rich did everything; he always knew what had to be done and how to go about doing it, and everyone around him took their cue from his example.

I also remember a multi-car accident, with injured people screaming and fighting. Rich's unit was first on the scene and we heard his calm, steady voice on the radio calling for the police and additional ambulances. Then he went to work on the most seriously injured victim. I'm sure his adrenalin was pumping the same as anyone else, but Rich believed in and practiced the training and discipline he taught to others.

In 1978, he began writing the EMS column for Firehouse and became one of the nation's most respected and influential authorities on emergency medicine. He was in demand all over the country to lecture at fire-rescue seminars. Rich never dealt in far-out theories; his ideas came from on-the-street, practical experience and he earned the respect of blue-shirt firefighters as well as the top chiefs. Rich was among the first to warn about the drug scourge, urban violence, terrorism and other problems that affected emergency workers. He thought the CBS television series "Rescue 911" promoted a positive image of the fire-rescue service, but he also cautioned that every run doesn't have a happy ending and wrote a memorable column on how to deal with it.

Rich combined his experience in the fire-rescue service with his skill as a journalist to fight for the cause of fire safety. He was concerned about proper staffing, training and resources for fire departments. When two local departments were involved in a jurisdictional dispute, Rich worked quietly behind the scenes to get both sides talking to each other. He founded his own television production company to serve the emergency services field and became a director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. As always, Rich gave of himself to broadcast the annual memorial service to firehouses across the country.

Rich had a wacky, ironic sense of humor and a fine singing voice. Our happiest times came when our bluegrass band ("The Informed Sources") got together. Rich played the bass, sang lead and harmony and, as usual, gave it everything he had whether we were playing at home in the basement, on stage before a huge crowd or at the White House.

We shared these good times as a big extended family that included spouses, children and friends of the band members. His wife, Sherry, is a nurse who specializes in emergency medicine and she and their children, Ben, 12, and Whitney, 8, were the focal point of his life. With all of his activities, they came first and always knew how much he loved them just as Rich knew the love they had for him.

You could feel the respect and affection so many people had for Rich at his funeral service. The church was filled with his family and friends, his colleagues in journalism, and hundreds of firefighters, paramedics and EMTs in uniform. They came from all over the country because their lives had been touched by Rich Adams.

He never faltered in his duty to journalism, to the fire-rescue service, to his family and friends. His life was built on the performance of his duties and in showing, by example, how much he cared. We will miss him and always remember the beauty of his life. Now, we must carry on by continuing to work toward the goals that Rich was dedicated to achieving for the fire-rescue service. That is the greatest tribute we can offer to his memory and it's what Rich would want us to do.

Hal Bruno, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is ABC News political director and served many years as a volunteer firefighter.