BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As a kid, Don McConnaughy lived in a home just behind the Beaver, Pa., fire station. Every time he heard the whistle blow, he’d throw on a pair of boots, run up the alley and open the door for the fire trucks.
“It’s been my interest from Day 1,” said McConnaughy, a retired Maumee fire chief. “I always listen and count bells.”
It was his leadership in building up the EMS program that prompted Fire Chief Brandon Loboschefski to nominate McConnaughy for the Hometown Hero Award, to be presented on Thursday, March 5.
While McConnaughy is largely considered a founding father in the development and progression of paramedic services in Lucas County, he stresses the impact that so many others had in growing the system to what it is today.
Historically, it was funeral homes that took care of transporting the injured to a hospital – at first on the back of a wagon and then in a hearse.
After graduating from high school, McConnaughy began working on his degree at Grove City College and had an emergency line run to his dorm room so he could respond to calls.
“I wanted to be a funeral director,” he said. Instead, he got a degree in accounting and considered the additional schooling it would take.
He’d been together with his high school sweetheart, Karen, for seven years. So instead of becoming a mortician, he landed a job with Owens Illinois, working in Alton, Ill.
“I worked in the funeral home there. Ambulance is in my blood. I like helping people and saving lives. I enjoyed the excitement,” McConnaughy said.
When he transferred to Maumee in 1968, McConnaughy took a position working weekends and evenings for the Maison-Dardenne Funeral Home, driving an ambulance. He also joined the Maumee Fire Division.
Between working for O-I, he served as a “piker” – an assistant to the firefighters – while also responding to pick up the injured for Maison-Dardenne.
“Rudy Dardenne called me on Christmas Day and said, ‘I’m getting out of the ambulance business. Would you like to have it?’”
As a junior executive at O-I and a parent, he was too busy. So instead, Dardenne asked Lee Wagener, chief of the heavy rescue squad, and he agreed.
Wagener started assigning people to run the ambulance, including McConnaughy, Dan Jankowski and Jim Tinney.
At first, it was just a few runs a week. Then the volume increased, along with the population. Soon, the men went to paramedic school.
“We were doing things that other (cities) weren’t doing at the time,” McConnaughy said. “We would start IVs and do intubation. We had a lot of super equipment. We were kind of a leader.”
The EMS program had a lot of supporters over the years, including The Andersons, which bought the first LifePak heart monitor and defibrillator, and the Maumee Chamber of Commerce, which helped purchase other equipment.
“We saved a lot of lives,” McConnaughy said. “People would come up and thank us.”
Over the years, he went inside a lot of Maumee homes, responding to the man having a heart attack or the family feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning
In 1996, McConnaughy took over as fire chief – a position that he held until 2003. In 2012, he received the prestigious University of Toledo Emergency Medicine Wall of Honor Award, which recognizes doctors, nurses and first responders in Northwest Ohio who have dedicated their lives to emergency medicine.
While McConnaughy retired from the department in 2003, he’ll always be known as “Chief” in his hometown.
“To serve the community you live in requires a great amount of passion and compassion,” Loboschefski wrote in his nomination letter. “It requires empathy, patience, dedication and hours of personal time away from your family. It was his mission back when he was a young man to serve others and it remains the same today.”