Norman Adler had a profound effect on many hundreds of teens and young adults across Cote Saint-Luc and the West End of Montreal. More than most people know.
Sadly, Norman suddenly passed away this week, yet he leaves behind a generation of leaders walking in his very large footsteps, including mine.
As head of Cote Saint-Luc’s Emergency Measures Organization from the late 1970s to the early 1990s Norm touched the lives of so many curious, young citizens. These high school and CEGEP aged kids were looking to explore exciting volunteer opportunities, prepare for careers in health sciences and to make a difference helping out neighbours and total strangers in their community. Norm was a mentor, teacher and coach to these young minds, together with his trusty partner in volunteerism, Brian Payne.
Officially, the Assistant Director of CSL EMO (the precursor to the now famed CSL Emergency Medical Services or EMS) Norm was iconic to the CSL emergency scene in his family station wagon, often marked by the large EMO magnets on the doors.
In eulogizing her father, Melissa Adler, spoke about driving around in the family wagon that was outfitted with lights and siren. Not your usual family car.
Melissa quipped how Norm would kid his friends during High Holiday synagogue services that he was listening to the baseball game on his earpiece. Those of us on the other end of his emergency walkie-talkie knew the truth though as Norm was quietly, perhaps secretly, ensuring the safety of our community as he strategically placed us in synagogues throughout CSL with lifesaving equipment in case of sudden illness for the thousands of congregants.
Norm’s community persona was linked to the famed brown and yellow uniform of the EMO. Our squad of “rescue, medical, fire” first responders worked hand in hand with the CSL Fire Department and all municipal services, training for disaster and preparing for any emergency. We would spend Sunday mornings practicing pulling victims from crushed vehicles behind headquarters at 8100 Cote Saint-Luc Road and repelling off the roof with a pretend patient in a “stokes” basket stretcher of what’s now the CSL Tennis Club on Guelph Road.Norm and Brian pressed us to be ready for any eventuality, cranking up pumps to evacuate water from flooded basements to handling chain saws to clear streets of downed trees.
Many of us considered Norm our friend and mentor. Patty Lietman, Hal Newman, Neil Michaels (Emergency Measures Coordinator for West-Central Montreal Health), James Harkins (Fire Captain for Broward County), Jeff and brother John Silver, Toronto Police Sargent Lawrence Sager, Brian Goldberg, Councillor Ruth Kovac, Elie Raie (Respiratory Tech), Tampa-St. Pete Paramedic Howard Levinson, Marine Biologist Per Comolli, ICU Nurse Naomi Cherow and so many more. Great friendships were born, careers launched and life altering moments began thanks to Norm’s vision.
Erwin Luden joined EMO in the early days of EMO and helped run the Auxiliary Security team. Today he works professionally as a CSL Public Security officer and his son, Brandon, is deeply committed to EMS and has also worked as a dispatcher.
Helen Karls is a longtime EMO volunteer who’s kids also became active in EMS.
Norm’s influence also touched John Levac, current President of the Yarmouth, NS, Fire Dept and firefighter instructor, Melaine Selby who went from volunteer to professional staff at EMS, Sheldon Goldberg who went on to become a leader in Hatzolah Montreal, the late Barry Tottle, Arnie Zwaig, Danny Raie (Pharma Research), Jonathan Lack (Periodontist in London, UK), Dentist Uri Laxer, Richard Herzog, Danika Bedard, EMS Director in the US South Brian Lax, Jack Dym, Walter Wheatley, David Sassoon (who became an Urgences Sante senior manager), and Neil Fyckes. The list goes on: Bruce Kahn, the late Doug Lion (CSL FD), Rick Liebmann (CSL and Montreal FD), Larry Rinzler, Jon Cooperman (Emerg doc), Cory Cooperman, Michel DiIorio, John Trager (ER doc) and Scott Hunt. There are so many more names that come to mind. Each one has a special memory of Norm.
Irving Epstein served as senior officer under Norm and Brian. He dutifully organized and coordinated the volunteers under their direction. Irving stayed involved in security and emergency measures for many years too, following his EMS experience.
Neil Michaels said, “He was one of the nicest men I knew. He was a mentor for me when I started at EMO.”
Hal Newman would follow Norm’s lead and become Cote Saint-Luc’s first ever professional director of EMO/EMS. “He was a dad of young kids when I first met him. When he passed Norm was a zaida (grandfather). Sounds like he lived life well and touched a whole lot of lives in the process. Good on you, Norm. Rest easy, brother. We’ll take it from here.” Hal continued that Norm was an early adopted of emergency medical services at a time when Quebec’s pre-hospital scene was unstructured and disorganized.
“Norm Adler was a phenomenal man who had such a love for CSL EMO,” said Patti-Beth Lietman. I remember so many shifts I spent on duty just sitting in his office and talking about so many different aspects of EMS. CSL EMO/EMS was such an important part of my 31 years as a volunteer there and led to my very productive life in Emergency Medical Services. RIP Norm. You will truly be missed.”
“I too was there in those early days. We had large shoes to fill as we built on Norm’s hard work to grow this 24 hour service into what it is today,” Councillor Ruth Kovac said. Ruth’s political career was also spawned thanks to her EMO experience, stating closely involved in emergency services planning and policy making for more than 30 years.
“One of the pioneers of EMO, although not an operational member of emergency medical response, he effectively worked, out of the limelight, in an administrative capacity to get EMO First Response off the ground,” said Lawrence Sager, a former EMO buddy of mine, who went on to become an officer in the RCMP and now in the Toronto Police Services. “He had a good sense of humour and his heart was always in the right place. I would have liked to cross paths with him again and talk about old times. Rest in peace, Norm.”
Norm’s organizational skills, together with Brian Payne, created what is still considered the leading municipal EMS anywhere in Quebec and the most advanced suburban city in the field of emergency preparedness, civil protection, first response and emergency medical services.
Norm’s passion for EMO was infectious and launched what became a defining element in my own personal brand, leading me in a direction I never planned for or sought out. My 30 plus years with EMO/EMS, my eighteen years as an Emergency medical Technician with Urgences Sante and even my political career as a City Councillor overseeing all aspects of public safety were in large part thanks to Norm’s mentorship, dedication and commitment.
Also, Many of us were actively involved in Norm’s campaign when he ran for CSL City Council in the late 80s.
How symbolic, appropriate and moving it was to watch his final journey, as the casket and pallbearers were led out of the funeral home by the Cote Saint-Luc Emergency Medical Services flag, a symbol he played such an important role in building, paraded by current Public Safety Director Jordy Reichson. What’s more, this solemn event occurred on the eve of National EMS Week. True to his love for his community and his ‘other kids’, the EMO volunteers, contributions in his memory are directed to the Côte Saint-Luc EMS (Emergency Medical Services), (514) 485-6800 ext.: 5101.
Condolences to the family of the late Norman Adler. May he rest in peace.