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Acadian Ambulance honors top paramedics, EMTs of the year

EMS personnel across four states were recognized by their peers for dedication, service

By Adam Daigle
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

LAFAYETTE, La. — Acadian Ambulance honored its EMT of the Year and Paramedic of the Year during its annual luncheon Tuesday.

Now in its 53rd year, Acadian honored Savannah Welch in the north Louisiana region as the top paramedic and Samantha Blackwell from the south central Texas region as the top EMT along with top EMTs and paramedics in each of its 14 regions in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Tennessee during an event at the Cajundome.

All honorees were nominated and voted on by peers in their district while also participating in an interview process with Acadian’s leadership team.

In the Lafayette-based Hub City Region, Sarah Arabie was named top paramedic and Brad LaPointe was named top EMT.

Blackwell, who works out of the San Antonio, Texas, suburb of Schertz, has been with Acadian since 2021 and has overcome hardships in her life, including growing up with a dad who struggled with substance abuse and served prison time.

Now married and a mother of six, she mentioned how a car accident when she was 17 in which she suffered an aortic dissection, a fractured wrist and broken ankles. The treatment she received after that crash left a strong memory.

“I appreciated those first responders who took great care of me,” she said. “So when I go out to a scene and I’m responding to calls, I put that in the back of my mind and really, really harp on that patient’s care.”

Welch, a critical care transport paramedic on the night shift in Ouachita Parish, has been with Acadian since 2019 and only got into the field after graduating from Louisiana Tech three years earlier with a degree in kinesiology.

She recently was named paramedic field supervisor and in 2022, along with her EMT partner, earned Meritorious Service Awards for rescuing a patient from a submerged vehicle.

“I was very honored obviously just to get regional paramedic (award),” Welch said. “It just made me feel very valued by my co-workers. Being able to compete with every other regional paramedic, I’m going up against the best of the best across four states. When I got the call (that I won), I was honestly shocked.”

Matthew Kelly, a national author and motivational speaker, was the keynote speaker for the event and referenced finding meaning in your work and pursuing your dreams.

“We sit here today because someone had the courage to dream,” he said. “They had the courage to risk everything for that dream. We sit here today as the fulfillment of dreams.”

Acadian’s operations stretch back to Sept. 1, 1971, when it began with two ambulances and eight medics and a task to cover 279 square miles in Lafayette Parish.

At the time, Richard Zuschlag, Richard Sturlese and Roland Dugas recognized a need for an ambulance service because new federal regulations had forced funeral homes to stop providing ambulance transportation. It now remains headquartered in Lafayette and has 5,200 employees and 3,500 medics with 4.2 million miles driven each year.

Zuschlag’s son, Blaise, who is also executive vice president and chief administrative officer, spoke on behalf of his dad on Tuesday.

“We are so very blessed to have the ability to work under his leadership and vision and wisdom,” Blaise Zuschlag said. “Thank you for all the blessings that you have provided for our family, our company and our community.”

Others honored as best in their region included:

— Bayou: Brent Pellegrin, paramedic; Michele Jones, EMT.

— Capital: KD Dunn, paramedic; TJ Taylor, EMT.

— Central Louisiana: Jacob Fitzgerald, paramedic; Aaron Alger, EMT.

— Central Texas: Sammie Herrera, paramedic; Amber Guilbeau, EMT.

— Houston: Clayton Williams, paramedic; Abraham Rios, EMT.

— Jackson County: Kayleigh Dunham, paramedic; Caroline Cash, EMT.

— North Louisiana: Sonya Norman, EMT.

— North Texas: Precious Duru, paramedic; Shawn Wells, EMT.

— Northshore: Lee Bingham, paramedic; Kole Bavaret, EMT.

— Orleans : Nikolaas van Hennekeler , paramedic; Lauren Perque , EMT.

— South Central Texas: Garrett Ritter, paramedic.

— Southeast Texas: Viviana Biehle, paramedic; Shelby McCabe, EMT.

— Southwest Louisiana: Hollie Evans, paramedic; Martyna Hicks, EMT.

— Tennessee: Patrick Garner, paramedic; Michael Sweeney, EMT.

— Air Med: Alli Hardy, paramedic.

— SMS: Jon Anderson, paramedic.

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