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January 1, 2011

Minn. medic killed in fall while clearing roof

By Mara H. Gottfried
St. Paul Pioneer Press

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — As a paramedic, Bill McMackins saw bad things happen to people and recognized that life could be too short.

"He knew he had to live each day to the fullest, and he didn't wait around for anything," said Jeff McMackins, his son.

After aiding countless people in emergency situations, Bill McMackins was the one paramedics were summoned to help Tuesday. He was removing an ice dam from the roof of his Cottage Grove home when he slipped off a ladder and suffered a major head injury, said son Reid McMackins, who was helping him with the roof.

Paramedics brought Bill McMackins, 54, to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he died soon after. His family says the sentiment "A life well-lived" is how they're memorializing him.

"He had helped so many people, hundreds and hundreds of people, and it was just a tragedy that this happened to him," said Dave McGowan, director of clinical and operational quality at HealthEast Medical Transportation, where McMackins worked.

McMackins was the second person to die recently after falling from a roof.

John Rohwer, chairman of the University of St. Thomas' Health and Human Performance Department, died on Christmas, a day after he fell onto his driveway while removing snow from the roof of his Shoreview home.

At the time of his death, McMackins was a full-time instructor in Hennepin Technical College's emergency medical services program and a part-time paramedic for Northfield Hospital's emergency medical services.

People have been sharing stories and memories about McMackins on his Facebook page.

One recounted McMackins chasing a bank robbery suspect in West St. Paul in his ambulance, blowing the air horn. McMackins led police to the suspect, said Jeff McMackins.

Early in his career, McMackins drove his ambulance through a snowstorm to pick up a baby in St. Cloud, Minn., who needed to get to a Twin Cities hospital, said wife Sandy McMackins. Interstate 94 was closed, and a snowplow had to lead the ambulance there and back, Jeff McMackins said.

On Tuesday, Reid McMackins said he was on the roof at the front of the house when his father climbed a ladder to continue pounding on the ice dam to remove it.

"One of his feet slipped off the ladder, and he and the ladder both went backwards," Reid McMackins said. He yelled to his father while running to the edge of the roof.

Reid McMackins said he jumped off the roof and realized his father was seriously injured. Reid McMackins rushed inside, called 911 and went back outside with a portable phone. He gave his father CPR until police and paramedics arrived.

A Second Career / Bill McMackins grew up in Sikeston, Mo. He met his wife while they were in school at Anderson College (now Anderson University) in Indiana. They returned to Missouri and worked for McMackins' family floor-distributor business.

McMackins' parents retired and closed the business, and Bill and Sandy brought their children to Minnesota in 1991, where Sandy grew up and had family.

Looking for a new career, McMackins went to school to be a paramedic.

"He was attracted to people, and he liked helping them," said son Ryan McMackins. He also liked the adrenaline rush that came with his work. "He didn't want to sit behind a desk," Ryan said.

In 1995, Bill McMackins started working as a HealthEast paramedic, his wife said. He worked his way up to mobile intensive-care paramedic, she said.

His uniform was a blue jumpsuit, which led to a nickname that stuck — "Papa Smurf," said Jeff McMackins.

Many described McMackins as calm, which served him well in stressful situations.

"He was so good with patients," said Marty Forseth, Dakota County's EMS coordinator, who worked with McMackins. "Some of them were real sick, and Bill was very competent and reassuring and compassionate."

McMackins also had a passion for teaching, his family said. He was one of the first people involved in the training program at HealthEast Medical Transportation, Forseth said.

McMackins taught at Hennepin Technical College for about five years, said Joe Mulford, the college's dean of public safety programs.

"Bill was unique in that he had extremely strong experience and technical skills in the area of emergency medicine, yet he was really an educator at heart and he could share that experience in a way that students could connect to," Mulford said.

Jeff McMackins said his father influenced him to become an EMT. Jeff McMackins worked for an ambulance service while in college and is now a Wright County sheriff's deputy.

In his free time, Bill McMackins enjoyed photography. He built a darkroom when his sons were children. He loved photographing his family — "Our entire lives are documented, thoroughly," said Ryan McMackins — and nature.

In addition to his wife and three sons, Bill McMackins is survived by two brothers, Steve and Stan, and a granddaughter.

Visitation for McMackins will be at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 8; a memorial service will follow at 10:30 a.m. Both will be at Crossroads Church, 5900 Woodbury Drive in Woodbury.

Copyright 2010 St. Paul Pioneer Press

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