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Statement on the passing of Dr. Leonard Cobb

Dr. Leonard Cobb, one of the founders of the Seattle Fire Medic One program, passed away on Feb. 14, 2023.

Today, the Seattle Fire Department and Harborview Medical Center issued the following statement on behalf of the Cobb family:

We are sad to announce the passing of Dr. Leonard Cobb, a luminary in the field of prehospital care for patients with cardiac disease. His achievements are many, but perhaps the most notable was helping establish in 1970 the Seattle Medic One paramedic program at Harborview Medical Center and a year later, the creation of bystander CPR training for nonmedical professionals. Both of these programs have earned worldwide acclaim and inspired fire and emergency medical service departments to follow in Seattle’s footsteps.

The Seattle Medic One program’s goal is to provide emergency care comparable to what a patient would receive by a trained physician onsite. In the late 1960s, Dr. Cobb, director of Cardiology at Harborview Medical Center, took note of work being done in Europe with prehospital cardiac patients that was saving lives.

Constantly seeking to improve patient care, Dr. Cobb focused on resuscitation from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. With then-Fire Chief Vickery in 1969, Cobb developed a local program where specially trained firefighters were trained as paramedics and dispatched to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), use a defibrillator to restore a normal heart rhythm, and give intravenous medications to stabilize the patient in preparation for safe transport to the hospital.

Dr. Cobb, Fire Chief Vickery and Seattle Rotary #4 launched Seattle Medic Two in 1971 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.

After handing off the medical direction of the Medic One program to Dr. Michael Copass in 1993, Dr. Cobb continued to be actively involved in clinical research. He worked to ensure the ongoing excellence of Medic One paramedics until well into his 90’s.

In 2008, Dr. Cobb helped to create the Resuscitation Academy. His teachings drew on 40 years of experience leading a high-functioning EMS program. His advice to attendees was timeless: The quality of patient care cannot be emphasized enough; there are no magic bullets; stick to quality CPR; and never stop measuring and improving your system.

As a result of Dr. Cobb’s leadership, Seattle’s EMS system is held up as one of the best in the world.

Dr. Cobb will undoubtedly remain in our memories, and his legacy will continue to live on through the thousands of lives his work continues to save each year. We will remain in his debt for his innovation, leadership and passion for saving lives.

The Seattle Fire Department and Harborview Medical Center express our condolences to the Cobb family and Dr. Cobb’s extended work family.

What others are saying about Dr. Cobb’s impact:

“Dr. Leonard Cobb was a forward-thinking innovator who transformed the way we approach delivering public safety and emergency care. He pioneered a partnership between the Seattle Fire Department and medical providers to launch Medic One, which set the standard for excellence in pre-hospital emergency care and has become a national model. Our city is grateful for his contributions which have helped save countless lives, and our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.” – Mayor Bruce Harrell

“Dr. Leonard Cobb was a legend in the EMS world as one of the founding fathers of the response system here in King County.  Over many years, he’s offered numerous gifts to our region, but beyond his exceptional intelligence and vision, warm demeanor and dogged perseverance, he was a person who could bring disparate people together and work together for a common purpose.  I’m personally so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Cobb over the years and witness the deep impact he’s had in all of our lives.” – Michele Plorde, Emergency Medical Services Division Director, Public Health-Seattle & King County,

“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. 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!” – Fire Chief Harold D. Scoggins, Seattle Fire Department

“Dr. Cobb relentlessly sought to improve the system of emergency cardiac care. He was willing to consider innovative approaches to delivering lifesaving therapy inside people’s homes. 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.” – Dr. Michael Sayre, Medical Program Director, Seattle Fire Department,

“Dr. Leonard Cobb transformed our approach to emergency care.  More than 50 years ago, he pioneered a partnership between the medical community and the Seattle Fire Department to “co-opt” firefighters to expand their responsibilities to become what we now know as EMTs and paramedics.  This model has proven remarkably efficient and effective, and importantly has saved thousands of lives in our region alone and served as a strategy for many other communities around the US and the world. Dr. Cobb possessed a tremendous ability to engage many: public safety organizations such as Fire Departments, traditional medical providers such as physicians and nurses, and a spectrum of community perspectives. He leveraged this good will and collaboration with substantial clinical insight to advance public health.  Dr. Cobb was committed to systematic measurement as a means to improve patient care, so he would implement new ideas to improve treatment for time-sensitive medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, and major trauma. We will miss his discerning questions, his quick wit, and his warm smile.  He was one-of-a-kind.” – Dr. Tom Rea, Medical Program Director, King County Emergency Medical Services,

“Dr. Cobb was a pioneer in the field of out-of-hospital emergency medicine. He has touched the lives of thousands world-wide through his work. Medic One and the Medic One Foundation has lost a great leader and friend, but we will continue his mission to save more lives will live for generations to come. “ – Kim Duncan Martin, Executive Director, Medic One Foundation,

“Dr. Cobb laid the foundation of the Medic One system using the mantra, ‘Measure, Improve, Measure, Improve.’ The standard he set for quality patient care, scientific rigor, and continual quality improvement carries over into everything we do. His legacy will live on as we work with partners around the world to save lives from cardiac arrest.” – Ann Doll, Executive Director, Resuscitation Academy Foundation, 

“Dr Cobb’s vision, scholarship and leadership was known to me long before my chance to first meet him. So much of my EMS system’s opportunity to improve survival from out of hospital cardiac arrest is directly attributable to what he achieved and made available to the world through the use of the scientific method. Attending seminars and conferences with him in attendance was humbling, all the more so because of his abiding humility. Such people as Dr. Cobb, rare in any generation, seem to have a clear vision of a significant problem that needs to be solved and they apply their grit, passion, powers of persuasion and ingenuity and it somehow gets done. It should remain an inspiration to us all that there was an individual who was not daunted by creating a new treatment paradigm, educating and training those who would fulfill the promise, providing widespread access to defibrillation out of the hospital, convincing the medical establishment that this “paramedicine” could be safely and effectively done. The world owes Dr. Leonard Cobb a debt of gratitude.” – Dr. Michael Levy, Chief Medical Officer Anchorage Areawide EMS, President, National Association of EMS Physicians, 

“To say that Dr. Leonard Cobb had an impact on lives would be a terrible understatement, without mention of the how and why.   He was before his time in championing life-saving systems of care that are now taken for granted, thanks to his efforts.  He transformed ambulances (which could do little more than transport sick patients to hospital) into intensive care vehicles, staffed by trained paramedics who could diagnose and treat a wide variety of emergencies before hospital arrival.  This was little more than an experimental concept before it was so successfully piloted in Seattle and King County under his leadership.  Dr. Cobb brought rapid deployment of automated external defibrillators by firefighter-EMTs into the mainstream for victims of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, along with point-of-care telephone instructions in CPR, putting life-saving hands into the arsenal of every bystander at the moment this was most needed.  All of these and more continue to save countless lives not only in our community but across the world and largely advanced the science to what it is today.  The “why” behind Dr. Cobb’s efforts deserves equal emphasis.  He was unassuming, never sought personal credit for these innovations and always promoted others.  His mantra was “to measure is to improve” – a principle he instilled in all of us.  His quest for knowledge and impact on public health have laid a solid foundation for those of us who have been so fortunate as to ride on his shoulders, because our own feet were far too small to fit into his footprints.” – Dr. Peter Kudenchuk, Professor of Medicine, Department of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology, Arrhythmia Services, University of Washington, 

Interviews with Dr. Cobb

Resuscitation Academy Video: 2020 Dr. Eisenberg interviewing Dr. Cobb:

Resuscitation Academy Video: Dr. Cobb reflecting on creating a culture of excellence