The peace and quiet is broken by emergency sirens. Soon the distant thump of a medical helicopter gets louder. In communities across West Tennessee, paramedics arrive on the scene and administer life-saving care taught by Gerald Foon, ME’74.
For nearly 40 years, Foon has taught more than 1,000 paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMTs) at Southwest Tennessee Community College, formerly known as Shelby State Community College in Memphis.
“I was fortunate to get in on the ground floor of a new profession,” he says. Prior to the 1970s, emergency medical transportation was often provided by funeral homes, with little or no medical care being administered.
After receiving his engineering degree from Rolla, Foon moved to Tennessee and enrolled in Southwest, which was offering the state’s first paramedic program. After finishing his courses in 1975, he was asked to join the college’s faculty. In addition to teaching, Foon worked as a flight paramedic with the Memphis Police Department Helicopter Aviation Unit until 1984.
Currently an associate professor at Southwest, Foon previously served as chair of the college’s emergency medical technology department from 1978 to 1998. Under his leadership, the paramedic program became the first in the state and the 14th in the country to receive national accreditation from the Committee on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs.
The Tennessee Emergency Medical Services Education Association recognized Foon with a lifetime achievement award in 2004.
“My calling in life was not to be an engineer, but what I learned at Rolla helped me understand the treatments, new technology and procedures needed to teach my paramedics how to save a human life,” he says.