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    Robert Haley, former Boston EMS special operations director, dies at 63

    Captain Robert Haley.
    George Rizer for the Boston Globe
    Captain Robert Haley.

    Robert Y. Haley was always planning for the worst: mass casualties on the streets of Boston, faulty emergency equipment, communications down, blocked ambulances unable to get to the hospital in time.

    A burly man known as Sarge, Mr. Haley formerly was the special operations director for Boston Emergency Medical Services, and he honed his talents for managing disasters while climbing the ranks from emergency medical technician to captain over the course of 35 years.

    From the rolling rallies celebrating championships won by Boston’s sports teams to the Fourth of July and First Night celebrations, Mr. Haley oversaw the city’s emergency response logistics with a mission to get every attendee home safely. And when the worst happened during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, all of his years of planning and training kicked into gear.


    “He was the architect. He built up the concept and practice of special operations,” said Boston EMS chief James Hooley, who added that many lives were saved in the crucial minutes after the bombs exploded near the marathon’s finish line.

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    Mr. Haley, who also led emergency management logistics for the state of Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina hit, and worked on the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, died Aug. 25 following what his family described as a long illness. He was 63, lived in Randolph, and had retired from Boston EMS on July 31.

    “Bob Haley was one of the most important people that Boston Marathon runners never heard of,” said Tom Grilk, chief executive of the Boston Athletic Association.

    At the finish area, Mr. Haley kept first responders “focused and strong” amid the bloodshed and fear after the 2013 bombings, Grilk said. “He proved that leaders are at their best when they engage everyone with whom they deal.”

    Mr. Haley grew up in South Boston, the son of Claire (York) DeFranco of Quincy. His stepfather was the late Robert DeFranco, who was the longtime owner of the Galway House restaurant in Jamaica Plain.


    For 29 years, Mr. Haley was married to the former Constance Machado, who is known as Conni. She was an emergency room nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital when they met.

    “He had a gruff exterior, but a heart of gold,” said Richard Serino, a former Boston EMS chief who is now a fellow at the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and formerly served as deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “Any time of the day or night when he was needed, he was there.”

    Lives were saved during the Boston Marathon bombings in part because of the EMS planning Mr. Haley did in the late 1990s, Serino noted.

    In addition to directing special operations, Mr. Haley trained thousands of first responders across the country and around the world, Serino said. Mr. Haley coupled strong leadership skills with an innate sensitivity to the needs of the injured. He could “yell and scream and put on his act” during union negotiations, Serino recalled, and become a soft-spoken gentleman when assisting an elderly person who had fallen.

    “He may have been tough with paramedics and EMTs, but that was so they could really take care of people,” Serino said.


    “Bob’s signature will be on the things that happen in this city for decades to come,” he added.

    In a tribute posted online, Boston’s city government noted that Mr. Haley was “recruited by the US 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.”

    Mr. Haley, the posting added, “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.” He was part of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team that responded when Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in 1992, and went to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands three years later when it was battered by Hurricane Marilyn.

    In an interview with the Jamaica Plain Gazette in 2014, Mr. Haley described the essence of the day-to-day job of EMTs and paramedics. “We’re a safety net,” he said. “People invite us into their homes when they’re at their worst.”

    In addition to his wife and mother, Mr. Haley leaves his son Rob, who is an EMT with Boston EMS, and his daughters Gena and Gillian, all of Randolph.

    Mr. Haley had a “secret sensitive side,” Gillian wrote in a blog post in the days following the Boston Marathon bombings.

    “He absolutely transforms into a different person at the sight of puppies and is really great at listening and giving advice for any problem that I am having,” she added.

    The day of the bombings, she was near the finish line and caught a glimpse of her father near the medical tent. He was “telling people where to go and what to do. He was in ‘Sarge in Charge’ mode and nothing was going to stop him . . . nothing ever does,” she wrote.

    “I had always heard from people how great my dad was/is at what he does and how much he is respected and how highly everyone thinks of him. But until that moment, I had never seen him in actual action. It was remarkable and a vision I will never forget,” she added. “I have never been more proud of my dad or more proud to be his daughter than in that moment.”

    On Tuesday, hundreds of paramedics and EMTs attended Mr. Haley’s wake, forming a dramatic column of uniforms filing into the Cartwright Funeral Home in Randolph.

    A funeral Mass was said Wednesday in St. Bernadette Church in Randolph. Burial was in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester.

    Mr. Haley received many department citations and awards. He was twice honored with the Stephen M. Lawlor Award for Collaborative Practice and also received the Henry L. Shattuck Public Service Award. The Boston Public Health Commission gave him its Revere Award, and he received a Logan Stars Award from the Massachusetts Port Authority.

    Joe Cahill, a retired Fire Department of New York paramedic who was the advanced life support coordinator during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, remembered how Mr. Haley provided assistance when hundreds of emergency workers died that day.

    “We didn’t need rescue. We needed help from our friends. That’s what Sarge brought,” Cahill said.

    “Until the last responder he trained has joined him, the last piece of equipment he selected becomes obsolete, and the last procedure he wrote falls away, Sarge lives on,” Cahill added. “Captain Robert ‘Sarge’ Haley will be remembered by good men and women as a good man. I can think of no greater legacy.”

    J.M. Lawrence can be reached at