Mark Bonawitz, 74

Pioneering paramedic developed priority system for mass-casualty scenes

Mark Bonawitz
Mark Bonawitz
Forest Lawn Funeral Home

Mark Bonawitz had already spent a decade as one of Miami’s earliest certified paramedics when he realized that scenes of mass casualties needed to be handled with precision to maximize the saving of lives.

Bonawitz, who joined the Miami Fire Department in 1967, helped design and implement the mass casualty triage tagging system that became a nationwide program in the 1980s . It meant that emergency personnel now had a system to prioritize treatment for multiple victims through color-coded tags when time is of the essence.

Bonawitz died of lung cancer on March 2. He was 74.

His ingenuity in developing the triage tagging system impressed third wife Paula Bonawitz, but it was his heart that brought them together — and kept them together as friends after their marriage ended.

“I was an ER nurse [at Jackson.] I met him through EMS — he taught EMS at Miami Dade College. It was his passion for what he did and the standards he upheld. The first time I saw him he was in the back of a rescue truck holding a little old lady’s hand — she was in her 80s — just because she was upset. And that did me in. He was a kind and compassionate person. He was strong. He was my anchor.”

Bonawitz was born in Brooklyn and moved with his parents and brother Theodore Rambis, to South Florida in the 1940s where he attended Miami Jackson High School. After a year at Florida State University, he joined the Air Force, spent some time serving overseas in Madrid, and married his high school sweetheart, Pamela McNeal, with whom he had three sons, Rock, Mark and Kenneth.

Real estate beckoned for awhile as the family settled into their home in Miramar but a paramedic’s life was his calling.

“The fire department was his life,” Paula Bonawitz said. “He lived and breathed for that.”

Bonawitz retired from the Miami Fire Department in 1991and began to devote time to The South Broward Elks Lodge. He became active with the Florida Elks Children’s Therapy Services as a state representative, assisting kids with muscular diseases learn to walk through physical therapy and braces.

He was an avid sailor and enjoyed photography and traveling. Through his sailing, he discovered a love for Costa Rica.

Paula Bonawitz had her own vacation ideas, she said, laughing.

“He’d call, ‘Oh, by the way, we’re going to Hawaii.’ My idea of a great vacation is to unplug the phones and take a good book out,” she said. “But it gave us the best of both worlds. I could still take a good book out. Anywhere there was water, he liked.”

Bonawitz is survived by his children and brother, along with stepdaughters Kim and Pam with his second wife, Marlene. He had nine grandchildren and two great grandsons. Services were held.

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