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History of King County Medic One

Prior to the 1970s, there was no Medic One and there were no paramedics in King County. But two forward-thinking physicians (Dr. Michael Copass and Dr. Leonard Cobb), and the Seattle Fire Chief at the time (Gordon Vickery), had the idea that perhaps firefighters could be taught some of the same skills that doctors used to save people who were seriously injured or ill and could apply these skills in a person's home or in the street where their accident occurred. But this was a rather radical concept, and many people resisted it.

In spite of this, in 1970, the Seattle Fire Department, in cooperation with Harborview Medical Center and the University of Washington, trained the first class of firefighters as paramedics. The program was quite a success, and later classes soon followed. In 1977, the first paramedics came to work in King County.

The prehospital emergency medical care pioneered in Seattle has become famous around the world. The expression that "Seattle is the best place in the world to have a heart attack" was coined after a 1974 60 Minutes story that featured the fledgling paramedic program. King County Medic One continues this tradition. The Medic One programs throughout King County are considered models for much of the world. The Medic One programs in King County are:

  • Bellevue Fire Medic One
  • King County Medic One
  • Northeast King County Medic One
  • Seattle Fire Medic One
  • Shoreline Fire Medic One

Through mutual aid and first response agreements, all of King is covered by these five Medic One programs.

Where we are today

Today, King County Medic One employs over 80 paramedics as well as other support staff. The same high standards that were in place for the first class in 1970 are insisted upon today. All King County paramedics are trained by the University of Washington / Harborview Medical Center /Seattle Fire Department paramedic training. Students learn the "ropes" under the tutelage of physicians, nurses, and experienced Seattle Fire Department paramedics.

King County Medic One provides emergency care to the citizens and visitors of King County using specially equipped medic units. Medic One paramedics because of their training, continuing medical education, and close relationship with the medical community, can use an extensive array of emergency medication, equipment, and procedures.

Looking toward the future

Because it was such an innovation, the early Medic One program was ideal for conducting medical research. There were many questions to be answered. Can paramedics be trained to perform physician-level skills? Do paramedics really make a difference? What is the effect of citizen CPR? Which treatments are best?

These studies showed without any doubt that paramedics could provide emergency medical care outside a hospital. Their care increased the survival rate for serious injuries and illnesses, such as heart attacks.

Other studies determined which of several treatment options was best. The results of these studies have been published in scientific journals and are used to establish treatment protocols throughout the country and even the world. Information on these studies can be found on the research page.