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IRECA History

The Gold Cross, February, 1967

The idea of an international association for men and women engaged in rescue and first aid work was born during the International Fire Chief’s Convention in New York in August 1947. It is true that men like Julian Wise of Virginia, William Borden of New Jersey, Joseph McCarthy of Illinois and Eugene Fields of Nebraska had for years discussed the need of a national organization with William H. Stephenson as he traveled around the country in behalf of mechanical resuscitation. But the idea of an international association, to include the United States, Canada, Mexico and other countries took form for the first time at a Resuscitation Clinic, put on in the booth of Stephenson Corporation at this IAFC Convention. It was the first clinic of its kind to be held for rescue members of the fire service and featured oxygen therapy along with manual and mechanical artificial respiration. To it came First Aid leaders from the United States, Canada and Mexico and Ester and William Stephenson began discussing with them the idea of an International Association which met with general approval. At the annual banquet, Mr. And Mrs. Stephenson had an opportunity to discuss this matter further both with Mayor William O’Dwyer of New York and Chief Frank C. McAuliffe of the Chicago Fire Department, who that year was President of IAFC. They were both so favorable that it was decided to go forward with planning immediately.

In their separate travels which followed covering the country both Mr. And Mrs. Stephenson discussed launching International Rescue and First Aid Association not only with leading workers in the field but with men like; Dr. Herbert Stack, Director of New York University’s Safety Center, Phil Rhynas of the Ontario Department of Land and Forests, Col. James W. Wray of the Civil Air Patrol and Captain Harold Berdine of the United States Coast Guard. They agreed to help.

While putting on a program at an Institute for Nurse Anesthetists in California in 1947 with the aid of Dr. Hugo Hullerman, Director of Professional Services of the American Hospital Association, Mrs. Stephenson prevailed on him to petition the AHA to co-sponsor the founding of IRFAA. This he agreed to do.

The next step was the mailing in April of 1948 of a letter to 200 selected leaders in Rescue and First Aid in the United States and Canada and one was sent to Mexico. It set forth the need of an international organization and detailed it’s objectives. These included the acting as a clearing house for aid and information, the promotion of good teaching and raising of standards, the information of new squads thereby spreading the movement and the improvement of public relations. A questionnaire was enclosed with a request for reactions.

The response was large, prompt and favorable. In addition, the American Hospital Association, while not sponsoring the new association, did agree that it’s first convention could be held in Atlantic City concurrently with it’s 50th Anniversary Meeting, with privileges of attending meetings and visiting the exhibits. It was now decided that Ester Stephenson should serve as Active Chairman until officers were elected at the first convention.

At her call, the first meeting of the Planning Committee was held in the Chrysler Building in New York, June 20, 1948. It consisted of three representatives from New Jersey, three from Virginia, one from the United States Coast Guard, one from the Emergency Division of the New York Police Department and one from the New Jersey State Police. Committees were selected and plans were made for the first convention to be held in Atlantic City at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, 19-20 September 1948, concurrently with the American Hospital Association’s golden Anniversary Meeting. Ester Stephenson continued as acting Chairman working with and coordinating all committees and conducting all correspondence while William Stephenson financed the enterprise until the convention and worked on getting together an Advisory Council consisting of a representative of the American Medical Association, the National Safety Council. The American Red Cross, the International Fire Chief’s Association, the International Association of Chief’s of Police, the United States Coast Guard and the American Hospital Association. The Atlantic City Convention was a complete success. The principal opening address was given by Dr. Robin Burkie, Director of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit who was then President of the American Hospital Association. He congratulated all those who worked to bring about this beginning of IRFAA and on behalf of AHA wished it every success and assured all that hospital members would extend every cooperation. Other speakers extended similar assurances of cooperation from the Fire and Police Services, the Coast Guard, the Industrial Safety Movement and the Civil Air Patrol. Local greetings were extended by David H. Slayback, the President of the New Jersey State First Aid Council and now Executive Director of the IRFAA.

Dr. Marcellus Johnson of Roanoke, Virginia Life Saving Corps was elected as first president and the new organization was launched on a career that has been most successful. Today it has more than 600 squad members and individual membership is approximately 20,000. These members reside in the United States, Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, England, Scotland, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. For several years a magazine was published combined with THE GOLD CROSS of the New Jersey State First Aid Council. Then in February of 1957 IRFAA began to publish it’s own magazine. “THE RESCUER” which has grown steadily in content, quality and service to members.

At the Roanoke Convention in 1961, William H. Stephenson proposed a Corporate Sustaining Membership program whereby companies pledged $1000.00 and paid $100.00 a year for 10 years. It was adopted and Stephenson Corporation, J.H. Emerson Company, and the A.E. Halprin Company were the first members. This number is now seven, and it is increasing all the time.

The Eighteenth Annual Convention in 1965 returned to Atlantic City and put on an outstanding pre-convention Seminar, sponsored by the Trauma Committee of the American College of Surgeons. Other conventions have been held in Columbus & Toledo, Ohio; Johnson City, Tennessee; Jacksonville & Miami, Florida; Greensboro, North Carolina; Montreal, Canada; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Asbury Park, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Albany, New York; Alexandria, Virginia and Washington D.C.

This brief history was prepared by Dr. Herbert J. Stack, former Director of New York University’s Safety Center and presented in a booklet form held at the Nineteenth Annual Convention held in Toronto, Canada. The photographs were “borrowed” from the enormous scrapbook which Mrs. Ester Stephenson developed for International.