Palatine man was an American pioneer in EMT serviceBy Eileen O. Daday
He was assistant chief of the Palatine Volunteer Fire Department in 1971 when Bernhardt "Barney" L accompanied Chief Orville Helms to a meeting that would change the face of fire departments across the state.
They were among the suburban departments to attend a meeting led by Dr. Stanley Zydlo, who proposed training and certifying firefighters in emergency medicine so they could provide immediate basic care to victims.
"(Barney) was the one who really picked up on the idea and ran with it," says Cliff Steif, a former Palatine firefighter. "He was instrumental in bringing it to the department, and to all of the smaller ones around us, like Cary, Fox River Grove and Barrington."
His role in developing the paramedic system is Mr. L's legacy. The former 57-year Palatine resident was 78 when he died this past Friday.
From that original meeting, Zydlo went on to create the paramedic program in Illinois, which has become one of the largest Emergency Medical Services (EMS) systems in the Midwest. But it all started with training Northwest suburban firefighters, he says, in emergency medical techniques, including members of the Palatine, Mount Prospect, and Arlington Heights departments.
"Barney was one of the first trained paramedics in the United States," says Zydlo, now retired. "It was amazing how common, ordinary people were willing to take on medical knowledge -- and do it.
"And that was very pleasing to me," he adds, "in light of all the resistance it caused."
Mr. L had served on Palatine's volunteer fire department since 1956, rising through the ranks to become a lieutenant and assistant chief, before he retired in 1977.
At the time, volunteer members held full time jobs outside the department, but completed drills and training led by two full time firefighters from other departments.
During these same years Mr. L ran the L Printing Co. in Palatine, a commercial print shop which his son Terry still operates, and has employed many of his grandchildren.
"His work ethic was stronger than anyone I've ever known," says his grandson, Greg L, of Palatine. "Even at 75 years old, he was working 10 hours a day."
Mr. L rarely talked about his years as a firefighter, but family members says he loved his role in the community.
"In the beginning, all the volunteers were alerted by a siren, before they went to a telephone system," says Terry L of Palatine. "No matter what time of the day or night, when my dad got the call, he'd bolt up and get on his fire-fighting gear."
Family members recalled some of the bigger fires the department responded to, including a new apartment complex under construction at Euclid Avenue and Plum Grove Road; and the original field house at Harper College.
The most memorable one was in 1973, when the Ben Franklin store in downtown Palatine burned, and took the lives of three volunteer firefighters.
"That was the impetus for the village to go to a full-time, professionally trained fire department," Terry L adds.
Besides his son and grandson, Mr. L is survived by his wife, Carol, and children Thomas (Diane) L of Inverness, Mark (Daniele) of Racine, and Laura (Kurt) R of Palatine, as well as 11 more grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his son, Peter.
Visitation will take place from 2-8 p.m. Friday at Ahlgrim Family Funeral Home, 201 N. Northwest Hwy. in Palatine.Note: there is an error in the article. It says he passed away on Friday, but it was on Tuesday.