A newsmaker you should know: Paramedics play significant role for CCAC executive


With his work building the new paramedic program for the Community College of Allegheny County Boyce campus, Richard L. Allison, 59, of Point Breeze said his career and life have come full circle.

His point of departure dates back to 1978, when he and much of his family attended a picnic at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Derry, where he grew up. In a helicopter mishap that crash landed on the church parking lot, his mother Mary Lou, was one of eight people killed. His aunt, Ruth Urdzik, was also "significantly injured."

"At the time, Derry didn't have an ambulance service, and borough council realized it needed one after the accident," said Mr. Allison, dean of academic affairs and coordinating dean of allied health for CCAC. "Whether by fate or accident, I was on the borough council at the time, and the council appointed me to serve on the Ambulance Association, where I was elected president for two years."

Jump 35 years into the future, when Mr. Allison recently headed a CCAC team that transformed the college's noncredit paramedic program to a credit-bearing certification and degree program. The program will be located at the Boyce campus with a state-of-the-art science laboratory.

"About a year ago, CCAC discovered the paramedic profession was increasing the level of educational preparation needed for a career in the field," Mr. Allison said. "The implications for CCAC was to take its noncredit program and develop it into a credit program."

The team -- Mr. Allison; Lillian Briola, allied health department head; Jill Oblak, director of the Public Safety Institute; and Neil Jones, director of emergency medical services -- spent months in meetings and curriculum planning sessions before taking the revamped program before the college governance board for approval.

For his work on the new program, Mr. Allison received the EMS Champion Award for "significant contributions to the health and safety of the residents and visitors to Allegheny County" at the 36th annual meeting of the Allegheny County Emergency Medical Services Council, held in June at Heinz Field. On Aug. 20, Allegheny County Council recognized Mr. Allison with a proclamation in his honor at its regular meeting of council.

"I find it very coincidental that I had an association with EMS in Derry in 1978, near the beginning of my career, and find myself involved with another EMS initiative 35 years later," he said.

Since joining the CCAC faculty in 1982, Mr. Allison has served in the college's administration, holding 10 administrative positions of ever-increasing responsibility.

"During my 30 years at CCAC, I've enjoyed the advantage of being able work for a college with a current enrollment of around 15,000 students that makes affordable education accessible to many people in the region," he said. "During that time, I've added eight to 10 allied health programs to the CCAC curriculum. I find starting a new program particularly exciting, especially when I get to see the first students graduate."

Highlights of his career include serving as president of the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association in the mid-1980s, developing the first associate degree in the country for electricians and serving as the first dean of the then newly opened CCAC Center in Washington at the Washington Crown Center.

In addition to his accomplishments at CCAC, Mr. Allison works with a number of civic and community organizations, particularly those impacting the Gay and Lesbian Community of Pittsburgh. As the former chair of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, he was instrumental in securing the funds needed to relocate and expand the center to its current Downtown location at 210 Grant St. Additionally, he is chair of the OUTrageous Bingo Steering Committee, where he is credited with having raised more than $500,000 for the center and the Shepherd Wellness Community.

In recognition of his professional and personal accomplishments, he has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Pittsburgh's "Years of Service Award" (2010); the Gay and Lesbian Community All-Star Organization's "The Shining All-Star Award" (2009); the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association's "Award of Outstanding Achievement" (1987) and the United Way of Allegheny County's "Good Neighbor Award," presented in 1998.

"I first came out professionally as a gay man in 1982, and in the long-run it has had no effect on my career," he said. "I feel that the more people who come out of the closet the better, not only for the gay community, but for everyone because there are no secrets and people should be accepted for who they are. There are gay people in every walk of life. They're among most people's families and friends, they are their neighbors as well as their teachers, ministers, paramedics and other first-responders who save lives every day."

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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