Lynnwood Fire Department paramedic Vincent Schweitzer, 61, poses in the paramedic unit at Station 15 on July 27 in Lynnwood. Schweitzer is the last paramedic still on the job from a starting group of seven in south Snohomish County. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Lynnwood Fire Department paramedic Vincent Schweitzer, 61, poses in the paramedic unit at Station 15 on July 27 in Lynnwood. Schweitzer is the last paramedic still on the job from a starting group of seven in south Snohomish County. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

One day, this pioneering paramedic needed help himself

LYNNWOOD — He’s spent nearly 40 years providing emergency medical care in south Snohomish County.

The system he helped develop saved his life.

Vincent Schweitzer, 61, was in the county’s first group of paramedics. It was 1979, and there were only seven of them. It was a coincidence that the team was called Medic 7.

Back then, they determined how to use equipment and medications through trial and error. He’d started his career a couple of years earlier in California. There, “it was Wild West,” he said. “We drove on sidewalks.”

Today, Schweitzer is the last of the original south county seven still on the job. Medic 7 was dissolved into local fire departments in 2003, and he went to work for Lynnwood. He’s learned a lot since 1979 about caring for people with heart problems.

Then he found himself in need.

In May 2016, he felt chest pains while running a 5k at Paine Field. His family called 911. The crews from nearby Mukilteo Fire Station 25 knew Schweitzer. At one point, he oversaw their medic program.

After testing Schweitzer’s heart for electrical activity, Paramedic Brian Ouellette handed him the results to read. Another medic, Kelli McNees, swiped them away. It was serious. They got Schweitzer to the hospital as fast as they could.

A clot had blocked off the arteries feeding blood and oxygen to 75 percent of his heart. It was six weeks before he returned to work.

These days, he’s on light duty again. He got hurt in January at the Reserve apartments fire, the largest blaze in Lynnwood’s history. He hopes to resume his normal duties before he retires.

His younger colleagues know Schweitzer’s been hurting. When they see him, they stop to give him a hug or a pat on the back, or to sneak a peek at the old-time photos on his phone.

There’s a lot to remember from the days of the “ambulance boys.” Schweitzer still laughs about how his life turned out, and what brought him to this place from California.

In 1978, he was helping a friend named Amy move to Bellevue. He saw an item in the newspaper for a new paramedic program in Snohomish County.

Doctors and fire departments wanted input on how their ambulances should run. The job in that ad became his career.

When he got hired, he called Amy, who is a nurse. She became his wife. Their three grown children all work in health care.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@ heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

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