Shelton firefighter, EMT trainer leaves 5-decade legacy

SHELTON — Pat Lahaza loves helping people. This passion has been on display for five decades in his roles as volunteer firefighter, EMT, paramedic and, finally, educator. 

Lahaza has spent the past 12 years as Echo Hose Ambulance’s education and paramedic coordinator, developing countless programs, from CPR classes to Narcan distributions, paramedic training to Stop the Bleed seminars. Along the way he also has developed plenty of lifelong friendships.

That’s what makes his decision to retire later this month, he says, so bittersweet. 

“It kills me to leave my friends. I can’t think about it without crying,” said Lahaza, who will be making the permanent move later this month to North Carolina. “After almost 50 years in EMS and the fire department, I’ve made a lot of friendships. 

After all this time, he said he still loves the work.

“It feels like yesterday I was thrust into this position," he said. "Everything just fell into place. I have a great support system here. I hope I made my mark.” 

Lahaza is credited for developing Echo Hose Ambulances’ extensive educational programming. Earlier this year, in what will be his last, Lahaza was named the State of Connecticut EMS Educator of the Year. 

“I am proud of what I did. I’m proud of everything I did,” he said. “I am proud of the people who came through these doors, who took the classes, who bettered themselves. And I am so proud of all the instructors who made this training center what it is. It is all about staffing.” 

Joe Laucella, Echo Hose assistant chief, said he has known Lahaza for some 30 years, first meeting him when he was 16 and working as an EMT in Shelton while Lahaza was working EMS in the Valley. 

“Both Pat and his wife, Annie, have helped thousands of residents in Shelton and the Valley,” Laucella said. “His wife, who retired a few years ago, was a paramedic in the Valley as well. I think the two things that stand out to me were his wife Annie taking care of my grandfather when I was a teenager and being so compassionate.” 

Laucella said Lahaza cared for one of his family members about 20 years ago even before the pair had become friends. 

“He cared for my family member like he was caring for his own,” Laucella said. “Every person he interacted with, as a provider or as an educator, he treated as if they were part of his family.” 

At Echo Hose, Lahaza has been responsible for coordinating all EMS programs, managing a team of instructors and overseeing all the operations at the Echo Hose Training Center, the 32,000-square-foot training facility on Coram Road.  

Echo Hose Ambulance Corps Chief Michael Chaffee said he was just starting his EMS career when he met Lahaza 25 years ago. 

"He was an experienced provider and a mentor to many back then including me,” Chaffee said. “You knew the call would go well if he was your medic."

Chaffee added that Lahaza was a "great clinicial provider and a passionate educator."

"His steady hand for our training center has helped us develop it into one of the leading healthcare learning centers it is today," Chaffee said.

Lahaza began his career as a volunteer firefighter in 1974 with Hotchkiss Hose in his native Derby. From there he obtained his EMT certification in 1977. After working as an EMT for many years, Lahaza earned his paramedic license in 1997. 

With his paramedic license, he began working as a full-time paramedic, field training officer and EMS instructor. Over the years, he worked for New England Ambulance, American Medical Response of Bridgeport and Valley Emergency Medical Service before being hired at Echo Hose Ambulance as the educational coordinator in 2011. 

Lahaza’s efforts also earned him the Alliance for Prevention and Wellness Community Champion Award. The award is given to those in the community who act and effect change in the field of substance abuse prevention and intervention activities. 

Lahaza was recognized for helping bring the first community Narcan, suicide prevention and mental health first aid programs to lay people in the community. 

“We’ve saved hundreds and hundreds of people,” Lahaza said about the Narcan program. 

This is special for Lahaza, whose son died at the age of 26 from a heroin overdose.

“I was pushing for Narcan handouts and educating parents on the impact of drugs," he said. This would never have happened if Mike and Joe didn’t back me 200 percent.” 

Lahaza has coordinated numerous classes such as the EMT program, the EMT and paramedic refreshers, advanced cardiac life support, pediatric advanced life support, pre-hospital trauma life support, CPR classes, daycare provider CPR, free FEMA/DHS classes, EMS-instructor classes, tactical casualty care classes, State of Connecticut practical testing and many more offerings that are hosted at Echo Hose Ambulance each year. 

Laucella said Lahaza was always leading EMS educators, developing new programs and was a “trendsetter. 

“He would come up with a creative class or schedule and other agencies around the state would follow his lead,” Laucella said. “He helped not only our agency with robust training opportunities but helped set new trends across the state with EMS programs and delivery of classes.” 

Chaffee called Lahaza a good friend to many in the service through the years. 

“(Lahaza) was just fun to be around and really helped ease tense situations,” Chaffee said. 

Chaffee also credited Lahaza for helped Echo Hose Ambulance establish its fledgling training center. 

“His commitment to this effort is one of the main reasons we have grown so much and created an amazingly diverse education center,” Chaffee said. “All levels of EMS and multidisciplinary classes, refreshers, continuing education for our responders, free community outreach programs and learning pathways." 

Echo Hose had always tried to be an organization where volunteers and staff have pathways to success and careers in the health care field, Chaffee said.

“Pat has worked so hard to build and maintain that process," he said.

Chaffee said Lahaza would be missed, and his impact with Echo Hose Ambulance Corps and across the EMS industry would last for generations. 

“It’s been a great run,” Lahaza said. “Echo Hose was the perfect ending to my career.” 

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com