FUNKSTOWN — Austin Rinker touched thousands of people, many of whom don’t even know him. Through his career in emergency medical services and an interest in teaching emergency personnel, his impact on the lives of others was widespread.
“I would say he’s probably taught all the paramedics in Washington County, if not Western Maryland,” said Cpl. Jeff White, reserve officer coordinator for Maryland Natural Resources Police.
Born and raised in Hagerstown, Austin graduated from St. Maria Goretti High School and Hagerstown Community College before earning bachelor’s degrees from the University of Baltimore and Frostburg State University.
He went on to earn a master’s degree in biomedical sciences from Hood College and did postgraduate studies at the University of Toledo and Wayne State University.
“He did not flaunt his education, but was very down to earth,” said Linda Rinker, his wife of 23 years.
Dave Hays, assistant chief of community rescue service, said that after Austin started teaching, he discovered that was his passion and gift. Hays said Austin Rinker’s desire to be a lifelong learner helped make him such a good teacher.
“He brought new things into his life and shared them with others,” Hays said.
Austin and Linda Rinker met through a mutual friend at Community Rescue Service. While Austin was interested in the medical side of emergencies, Linda’s interest was fire emergencies.
The first time they met, Austin was dating someone else and Linda was married. The next time they met, while sitting on the porch of the CRS building, they discovered they were both single.
“What a place for a meeting to be ... People always said we made a perfect couple,” Linda said.
Austin’s toy ambulance collection has been packed away, except for a stuffed ambulance he received during his battle with lung cancer that sits atop the love seat in the Rinkers’ Funkstown home. His many certificates of recognition are prominently displayed in the living room.
Even though the couple met just before Austin Rinker moved to Detroit as a student at Wayne State, they began a long-distance relationship and married about a year later. After a two-day honeymoon in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., they loaded up a U-Haul with Linda’s possessions and settled in Detroit for four more years.
The Rinkers returned to Washington County when Austin Rinker’s grant ran out at Wayne State. He commuted to Bethesda, Md., for his job as a research biologist in the Laboratory of Immunology with the National Institute of Health.
It was his passion for teaching that led him to become an EMS instructor for the University of Maryland, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute and coordinator of the Paramedic Emergency Services Program at Hagerstown Community College.
“He showed such compassion for everything he taught. He was one of those people who made you want to learn,” Jeff White said.
Austin’s involvement with CRS began at age 12 as a junior member, when he washed vehicles and helped clean the station. By 16, he was licensed as a cardiac rescue technician, the youngest in the state of Maryland, Linda Rinker said.
Linda Rinker was a firefighter, a heavy-duty rescue technician and volunteered with the Maryland Natural Resources Police, which meant the couple would head their separate ways on work days.
A typical July 4 weekend might include Austin heading to Antietam National Battlefield to set up medical tents for the annual holiday salute with the Maryland Symphony Orchestra. Linda likely would end up down at the river doing vessel checks.
“We’d start the day together. We knew where to come back to,” Linda said.
Throughout their marriage, Linda appreciated that Austin allowed her to do what she needed to do for work. In return, she had the same supportive attitude toward his work.
They helped each other, with Austin volunteering with NRP and Linda supporting Austin’s teaching schedule. He started teaching the paramedic certification course at HCC, which involved writing the curriculum, and helped develop the rescue squad program, among other things, Dave said.
Austin was also responsible for writing many training materials and has been published in emergency medical magazines, Linda said.
Hays said Austin was one of his first instructors 26 years ago as he was learning EMS skills.
“He’s been a mentor to young and old ... Honesty and integrity are two of the best words to describe Austin. And friend — no matter what time of day or night, he’d always make time to answer,” Hays said.
Linda said there were periods where Austin would be at HCC seven days a week. During the week, he’d drive from his job at NIH straight to HCC to teach. She would bring dinner to the college and they would eat together before his class.
About a year ago, Austin was diagnosed with lung cancer and given no more than six months to live. Despite heavy chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he continued teaching and even held his summer EMT-B class at his home, where he taught from a hospital bed in the living room.
“Finally the cancer did win. He fought hard,” Linda said.
Austin was known for his dependability and for doing whatever was needed. About five years ago, after burying a former CRS chief, Frank Murray, Austin recognized the need for a funeral protocol and developed a plan.
Austin’s funeral was the first time it was used. The program included an honor guard and color guard, Linda said.
“CRS had planned his whole funeral for him ... I had so many agencies involved in his funeral. I can’t even begin to list them,” Linda said.
Instead of a hearse, Austin last ride was in CRS ambulance 751, one of his last wishes. He was buried with his Boyd’s paramedic bear.
Hays said the past year was a personal journey that he and many others shared with Austin.
“He was loved by many and missed by all,” Hays said.
Linda Rinker said that Austin’s one request to the audience at the CRS banquet in February was that if someone asked for help, to give it to them.
“He referred to his teaching. Pass it on to someone who needs or wants it. Basically that’s what he lived by,” Linda said.