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National EMS Week: Aspirus honors Wisconsin’s rich EMS history


Michael Clark, MD, Emergency Medicine Physician and EMS Medical Director

Each year in May, a week is set aside to recognize the lifesaving work that EMT’s, paramedics and first responders do every day in our communities. National EMS Week, May 21-27 this year, has been nationally celebrated since the 1970s, but Aspirus’ connection to EMS roots goes back even further.


In 1973, an Act was enacted that would forever change the way pre-hospital medicine worked. This was called the EMS Systems Act of 1973. This raised prehospital emergency care to the minimum level of EMT-Basic across the country, standardized the systems approach to prehospital care, and provided federal guidance and funding to modernize EMS. It Identified 15 essential components of an EMS system, and allocated funds for EMS regions to be developed.


50 years later the EMS systems nationwide are still implementing and improving from these basics. At Aspirus MedEvac, a Wisconsin based company who provides 911 and interfacility coverage with multiple ground unit bases along with two helicopters and flight bases, we recognize those who came before us.


The state of Wisconsin has a proud history in the evolution of EMS. Dr. J.D. “Deke” Farrington, a physician at Lakeland Memorial Hospital and Howard Young Medical Center, now part of Aspirus Health in Woodruff, has been referred to as “the father of modern EMS” due to the integral part he played in the development of emergency medical services dating back to the 1950’s.


While the groundwork for an organized system of pre-hospital emergency medical care had already been laid, it was Dr. Farrington who became a pioneer of EMS as we know it today. Among his many accomplishments in the field, Dr. Farrington most notably coordinated the first nationally recognized EMT course that was held in Wausau in 1969, invented the spine board and promoted the use of extrication, and was even part of the development of the “Star of Life” as the EMS symbol. He also served as the first chair of the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians or NREMT. His work helped set the standards for EMS professionals today, including a national standard of education and skills.


Drs. ‘Deke’ Farrington and Sam Banks brought military medical training to the Chicago FD in 1958 with the first civilian trauma training course; the EMT-A certification was born.


“The Northwoods is proud to have such a rich history in the development of these techniques and trainings that continue to save countless lives today,” says Michael Clark, MD, Emergency Medicine Physician and EMS Medical Director with Aspirus Health. “Dr. Farrington understood the importance of emergency medical care and had the foresight to see how he could improve it. We can imagine that he would be pleased to see how Aspirus Health continues to contribute to the field of emergency care.”


Today, Dr. Farrington’s work goes on. With the Aspirus MedEvac team doing their best to strive for the best patient care possible. Between 25 ground units and 2 helicopters spanning across Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Aspirus MedEvac is continuing to advocate for the advancement of prehospital emergency care and preserving the legacy that Dr. Ferrington began.


Join Aspirus Health in recognizing the dedicated EMS professionals who provide emergency medical care in communities across Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.


For more information about Aspirus’ medical transport services, visit

  • Dr. J.D. “Deke” Farrington


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