The Repository, Canton, Ohio
Before his death June 15 at the age of 89, retired Canton Fire Department Capt. Russell William “Bill” Jordy — one of the pioneers of emergency medical treatment in Stark County — kept his legacy of lives saved in a shoebox and the memories of the tragic fire and accident calls he answered in a scrapbook.
“You don’t remember me,” begins a letter to Jordy that he pulled from his shoebox for an article in The Canton Repository in 1973, “but you saved my life.”
Hundreds of thankful letters and grateful notes found their way to the shoebox. Clippings about the most difficult of the fire and ambulance “runs” Jordy went on were filed in the scrapbook to refresh his memory of the events.
Still, those who wrote to the fire department veteran were understanding that he might not remember all the details off the top of his head.
“I’ve gone on as many as 21 calls in a 24-hour period,” he told the Repository writer early in 1973. “I got a great deal of satisfaction from rescue work.”
At his retirement at age 57 early in 1988, Jordy estimated he had gone on somewhere between 6,000 to 7,000 runs during his career. He delivered a dozen babies and helped save countless lives.
It was a career on the Canton Fire Department that began in 1956 following Jordy’s graduation in 1948 from Timken Vocational High School and his service in the 82nd Airborne Division of the Army from 1951 to 1953.
Debbie Blake, Repository police and fire writer at the time of Jordy’s retirement, wrote that he vividly recollected his first ambulance call in 1959 to an accident at 12th Street and Logan Avenue NW.
“I didn’t even know how to put a Band-Aid on,” Jordy told her.
Jordy was told the next day that he would be taking over the Canton Fire Department’s ambulance service.
“I felt I better learn,” he told Blake. “I went to the Red Cross and told them to teach me everything they could.”
In the years that followed, Blake reported, the Canton Fire Department’s ambulance service, first staffed with emergency medical technicians and then with paramedics, became “largely Jordy’s vision of the way such a service should operate.”
Blake noted that many of those serving the department on its rescue vehicles “burn out” quickly. Jordy, instead, Blake wrote, “found it a never-ending source of satisfaction and stimulation.”
“I like the action and the movement,” he said. “I like helping people.”
Becomes a victim
In January 1971, the savior of so many almost lost his life while working as an EMT on a “routine ambulance run,” according to the Repository.
Jordy was a passenger in an ambulance when it was struck broadside at Central Plaza and pushed into a pole.
“Jordy had a habit of tossing a walkie-talkie in the air while riding in the ambulance,” reported the newspaper at a later date. “This time he caught it and switched to ‘transmit’ just as the crash occurred. By radio, dispatchers at fire alarm headquarters heard the crash and the moans, but didn’t know the location of the accident.
“Jordy had fallen from the vehicle and was pinned beneath it. Two passers-by pushed the ambulance off Jordy and a third ran to the Central Fire Station at 701 Market Ave. S with news of the crash.”
After surgery for injury to his spinal cord, Jordy spent 100 days in the hospital, with his wife, Shirley, at his side every day. Before Easter, he was walking, and he went home in April. He was back on the job, part-time at first, at the beginning of August 1971.
Pain from the accident persisted. “Sometimes it’s intense, sometimes it’s not so bad,” he said at his retirement.
Jordy was promoted to captain and taken off the ambulance service, but his contribution to the force’s rescue work remained strong.
“Then this man who in January 1971 was saved from almost certain death by his fellow firemen, picked up his nursing school textbooks,” wrote Blake in Jordy’s retirement story, “and went about the business of learning more and more about saving the lives of others.”
Jordy’s obituary is succinct about his achievements.
“He graduated from paramedic school in 1975, was an Emergency Medical Tech Instructor for Stark State College, worked for the State of Ohio as a Fire Instructor. He is on the National Registry for EMT and Paramedics, is in the Ohio Association of Emergency Medical Services Hall of Fame, class of 1999, and a 50-year member of the Red Cross and served on the Board of Directors.
“He was an instrumental part of creating the Paramedic Program for the City of Canton.”
It is Jordy’s scrapbook and shoebox, however, that carried the evidence of his accomplishments.
Jordy’s life can be measured in the family that survives him, of course, which includes a devoted wife and three loving children. But his worth to his community also can be tallied in the number of lives saved.
When he spoke to a Repository reporter in 1973, Jordy picked one letter from the shoebox.
“We would like to thank you for the emergency run you made to my home to take my son to the hospital,” the letter said. “I was too upset and scared then to say things, but Timothy is recovering. I never realized before what a wonderful service the fire department renders in having an ambulance staffed with such courteous and efficient (firefighters).”
Jordy then returned the letters to the shoebox and closed his memory book.
“Those are my rewards.”
©2020 The Repository, Canton, Ohio
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