As you all know, I got started in EMS at a very young age. The area of New Jersey that I grew up in is rich with a long, distinguished history of Volunteer EMS and Fire personnel. I remember being in my EMT class at the age of 16. It was taught in a large auditorium filled with about 75 people. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, we’d sit there enjoying lectures, or break up into groups and run skills stations, with the ultimate goal of adding all of us to the long, distiguished list of graduates of Community Medical Center’s EMT program.
That was where I met a man by the name of “Big John” Glowacki. He was a man whose reputation as a gruff, hard nosed, demanding yet professional person preceded him. John was an EMT Instructor, one of our dispatchers, and Life Member and Captain of the East Dover Volunteer First Aid Squad. It was impressive that had accomplished all of this by the age of 30.
When I turned 18, John approached me and asked me if I would be interested in riding with him on his Tuesday Day Duty Crew on his squad. I wasn’t a member, but a lot of us who rode days down in Dover Twp (now known as Toms River) worked together to do what we could to get as many trucks on the road as possible. At some point during my career down there, I rode on a rig from five of the six Township departments.
For the next three summers, and starting in the afternoons when I was in high school, I would come home, call John, and let him know I was in service. During that time, I learned a lot from him, not only from a patient care stand point, but also from an attitude and professionalism stand point. John wasn’t as mean as some people made him out to be. Sure, he was demanding and authoritative sometimes, but there are few people who I have encountered in my career who were more dedicated to the field. I never saw John lose his cool on a call. He was always so calm, cool and collected no matter what the situation.
In 1999 and early 2000, there were problems brewing in the Volunteer Squads in Dover Township. There were talks of going paid, or at least partially paid, and how it would work and be setup. John and I fell on different sides of this extremely political argument, and it put a lot of stress on our friendship. As a result, I stopped riding with him, and we rarely talked for about six months.
John moved to a different part of the town, and began living with his girlfriend who was an ER Nurse. I stuck around in Massachusetts, and was not only getting ready to start my senior year of college, but I was also getting ready to take my State Paramedic Exam. I remember talking to John that Summer, and patching things up. He and his girlfriend occasionally took trips up to Vermont, and we made plans that next time he decided to do that, he’d give me a call and we’d try to meet up somewhere along the way, since he’d almost be driving right past where I lived.
In the evening of August 23rd, I had my nose in my Paramedic book when the phone rang in my dorm room. My Mom sounded pretty choked up, and the first words out of her mouth were “First of all, I want you to know we’re okay. . .”
She then relayed to me the story of what had happened. The day before, John had gone into the ER with a severe headache. He had been discharged that night, and came home. His girlfriend went out that morning to fill his scripts, and came home about a half hour later, and found him dead on the couch. There was nothing anyone could do. Three Paramedics and two ambulances responded to try and help, most of them had been trained by John.
Despite the efforts of some amazing EMTs and responders, John “Big John” Glowacki passed away on August 23, 2000 at the age of 34. Ocean County lost a great EMT, an advocate for the field, a dispatcher, and I lost a friend, and mentor.
I went home this Summer to an annual town party hosted by our Volunteer Fire Department. Some of us were catching up over a few beers, and talking about how things “used to be.” The topic of John came up, and we couldn’t believe that it had actually been 10 years since we lost him
Even now, 10 years later, his lessons and words still resonate in me. The lessons I learned from John went far beyond how to KED someone, or the proper way to put on a HARE Traction Splint; they had to do with how to care for people and how to be the best provider I could be.
I miss you, big guy!