Back to top

In memory of Captain Robert Y. Haley

August 29, 2017

Boston EMS mourns the passing of Captain Robert Y. "Sarge" Haley, one of the most respected and influential members of the department.

Often seen wearing khakis, a bullet-lined belt, and polo shirt, Haley had a demeanor that commanded respect. With the middle name of "York," his nickname dates back to when he was a young boy in South Boston, in honor of Sergeant Alvin York, a decorated World War I hero and Medal of Honor recipient. While Captain Haley proved to be a hero in his own right on April 15, 2013, it is important to pay homage to the many qualities, qualifications, and accomplishments that made him such a vital member of Boston EMS and the public safety community.

After 35 years with Boston EMS, Captain Haley retired on July 31 of this year. He started with the department, like all uniformed members, as an Emergency Medical Technician, working out of an ambulance. From there he was promoted to Field Supervisor and later to Captain. Although a recognized leader and person of authority, Captain Haley was, most notably, a teacher and mentor. Many remember him from his time with the Boston EMS training academy, serving as an instructor when they were first hired. After leaving this role he would continue providing lectures on various preparedness topics and was even recruited by the U.S. Department of Defense in 1998 to serve as both an instructor and advisor on mass casualty incidents. In 2003, he was a driving force behind the creation of and course material development for the department’s DelValle Institute for Emergency Preparedness, which has trained tens of thousands of health care and public safety representatives. He was not only a skilled orator, but also a lifelong learner and an experienced disaster responder, lending credibility and value to the topics he covered.

When Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992, Captain Haley was broadly recognized for his strengths in logistics and disaster response. He served as a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team. When large-scale disasters struck, Sarge got a personal call from a representative at the Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting his assistance. Captain Haley later responded to St. Thomas in 1995, after Hurricane Marilyn, where, as he would recount, he arrived with no means of transportation and "appropriated" vehicles from a local rental car lot for his team. All was sorted out later and his uncanny ability to address any logistical challenge thrown at him soon became one of his trademarks. He was called again to New York, after the September 11 attacks, and once more when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, leading emergency management logistics for the entire state of Mississippi. Drawing from his national and international disaster response experience, he would apply lessons learned from what he experienced to build preparedness in Boston.

Most knew Captain Haley for his role as the Boston EMS Special Operations lead, a division he created, in the mid 90s, as a proactive measure to mitigate the rising need for EMS at special events, preserving coverage for the City’s neighborhoods. Just as Captain Haley worked to mitigate the resource demands planned (and unplanned) events placed on the department, he also made every effort to minimize their financial impact. He had an incredible talent for securing grant funding for resources necessary to improve disaster readiness and mass medical care capabilities. Over the years, his Special Operations division evolved into not just a special event unit, but also an emergency preparedness and disaster response resource for the department and City. After each event or disaster, whether it was the 2004 Democratic National Convention, evacuation of a long-term care facility, a Rolling Rally, a natural disaster, or a terrorist attack, Captain Haley took note and made necessary adjustments to his plan of operations. He was a ready asset for any emergency, and frequently called upon by local, state, and federal representatives for guidance.

When the Boston Bombings occurred in 2013, Captain Haley had spent years shaping disaster preparedness at Boston EMS and for the Boston Marathon. As a member of the organizing and medical committees, he influenced much of the logistics and medical planning. He was always thinking about the possibility of an incident occurring during the race and guided the BAA towards implementing mass casualty incident protocols as part of standard operations.  He had resources on hand for just such an event and a team working alongside him ready to respond.

That said, it was his daily commitment to the community and the department that defined his career at Boston EMS. Over the years, he received numerous department citations and awards, including the Stephen M. Lawlor Award for Collaborative Practice (received twice), the Henry L. Shattuck Public Service Award, and the Revere Award for excellence and leadership in public health. He worked seven days a week throughout the summers and coordinated the medical logistics for over 500 events a year. His attention to detail made him an expert in logistics and, with his big-picture forward-thinking perspective, he was an authority on disaster preparedness.

Although Boston EMS will be forever thankful for the legacy Captain Robert Haley has left, we owe the biggest debt of gratitude to his family, his greatest love, who shared him with us over the last 35 years.