ROCKINGHAM – If Guilford County hadn’t borrowed the training curriculum from neighboring Forsyth and then doubled up on the frequency of its classes, Tommy Cook would have been in the first graduating class of mobile intensive care techs (now paramedics) in North Carolina.
Instead, he graduated with the second class and is now, 40 years later, one of only two men in those first two groups still active in the profession.
Aside from his family, Cook loves nothing more than Emergency Medical Services (EMS), the career he essentially fell into but quickly came to love. He had always wanted a job in public service, but EMS work wasn’t even on his original list of job possibilities.
“I wanted to do something for the public sector,” says Cook, who was recently named director of the Southern Region of FirstHealth Regional EMS (Richmond County, N.C., and Chesterfield County, S.C.) “I wanted to do something that I felt was giving back.”
“Giving back” is exactly what Cook does. He had originally hoped to accomplish his professional goal by joining the Highway Patrol. When he missed the height requirement of the time by 2 inches, he looked into job possibilities with fire and police departments, but encountered the same roadblock.
When a friend suggested ambulance/rescue work, Cook expected the same kind of rejection. He didn’t, however, and instead found a life’s work that fulfilled his community service goal while earning him the respect of his colleagues.
“I have known Mr. Cook for well over 10 years since I became FirstHealth’s EMS medical director,” says Matthew Harmody, M.D., of Sandhills Emergency Physicians. “I have learned a tremendous amount about EMS from him. He is well-known across the local and state EMS community for his experience, work ethic and dedication, and is well-deserving of his new role.”
“Tommy’s EMS connection in the mid-Carolinas began with Richmond County’s program, and he served this community very ably for a number of years,” says John Jackson, president of FirstHealth Richmond Memorial Hospital. “I think he’s happy to be back with us, and I know we are happy to have him.”
Cook received his EMT-paramedic certificate from Forsyth Technical Community College in 1975 and was later certified by the Emergency Medical Services Management Institute through the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In 2005, he earned his associate degree in Emergency Medical Science and along with it the Excellence in EMS award from Montgomery Community College.
Nationally certified as an EMT-paramedic in 2000, Cook received the Jim Finnison Award for Outstanding Service to EMS in North Carolina from the N.C. Association of EMTs in 1991 and served several terms on the North Carolina Emergency Response Commission following his initial appointment by then-Gov. Michael Easley.
He has held a variety of positions with FirstHealth Regional EMS since moving to Richmond County in 1997 to become EMS director and was serving as interim director of FirstHealth’s Southern EMS Region when he received the permanent appointment in November.
Cook’s wife, Gayle is a registered nurse who now works as a claims analyst with FirstHealth’s Risk Management department. The two met when he was working on an ambulance and she was an emergency room nurse at Forsyth Memorial Hospital. Later a mobile intensive care nurse, Gayle Cook was one of the first female members of the Forsyth County Rescue Squad.
The Cooks’ daughter, McKenzie, also has an EMS connection as children’s program manager for the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services.
According to Brian Canfield, chief operating officer of FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, whose responsibilities include EMS oversight, Cook has achieved his public service goal.
“We are all very excited that Tommy Cook has accepted the position of FirstHealth’s Southern Regional EMS director,” Canfield says. “He possesses all the skills necessary to be successful in this leadership position, and he has a strong presence within the community. What most impresses me about Tommy is that he leads by example and lives our FirstHealth mission and core purpose – ‘to care for people.’”