He was Yoda of the EMTs

Leonard Eckman is retiring after 50 years of work as an emergency medical technican, watching the job grow from basic first aid to state-of-the-art heart monitors.

A passion for helping others — both in the classroom and in emergency situations — led to a 50-year career for Leonard Eckman of Orofino as an ambulance worker and emergency medical technician.

Eckman, 75, recently retired from emergency services and was honored by the Clearwater County Ambulance service for his contribution.

“I taught school and was interested in school teaching, and (emergency services) was something else that interested me, so I could do both,” Eckman said. “I wanted to help people.”

Eckman was living in Vale, Ore., in the late 1960s when he began working for the fire department. Only a few people in the fire department were trained for ambulance duty and Eckman decided that’s what he wanted to do, as well.

“EMTs didn’t exist at that time — we were first aid,” he said. “They discovered at Vale that they didn’t have any advanced first aid on the ambulance service and they came to me, wanting me to teach an advanced first aid class for them.

“I said, ‘Well, I’d be glad to do that if I could join the ambulance service,’ and they jumped at the idea. So they put me to work on the ambulance service and I took the class to instruct advanced first aid.”

In 1970 Eckman, his wife and two sons moved to Orofino where he began teaching fifth and sixth grades and he immediately started working with the Clearwater County ambulance service.

That’s when he took the additional training to become an EMT.

When the national EMT program, started many states received hefty grants from the federal government to help units get established and buy equipment.

“There was money to buy ambulances and equipment early on and they did EMT trainings, and I got to teach EMT classes for the state in the five county region of (north) central Idaho.”

Besides the basics, “we got extrication equipment and sometime a bit later, we got defibrillators.”

Eckman said the funding for emergency service units is still available but not at the level it was at the start of the program.

“Because that grant dried up,” he said. “The federal grant is no longer, and the state of Idaho had to take that over and cover it.” The challenges of emergency service units, however, have not diminished. Eckman is reluctant to speak of any particular situation he’s been involved in because of patient privacy, but said he’s been on the scene of several truck wrecks and other mishaps in the far reaches of Clearwater County.

“I remember one specific run that was quite rewarding,” he said. “It was a child, probably 4 years old, and when we got to him, he was unconscious in a field and a horse had kicked him in the head. And on the side of his head, just above his ear where the horse’s hoof had hit, you could see brain matter.

“We got him stabilized and moved him to the hospital and he went on and they put a plate in where the bone was missing and as far as I know, to this day, he recovered and was doing fine.”

Eckman retired from teaching in 1990. He has spent the last 13 years of his emergency services career as an administrator for the ambulance service.

He decided to retire because, “after 50 years, I figured it was time. Plus, I have Parkinson’s (disease) and I’m much slower.”

But he has plans during retirement to continue his hobbies of rock cutting and gardening “and slowing down and taking it easy.”

Hedberg may be contacted at kathyhedberg@gmail.com or (208) 983-2326.

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