VALDOSTA -- Paulette Luke was honored as Paramedic of the Year at an awards luncheon Thursday at Ryan's sponsored by the Valdosta Exchange Club. She was nominated by her peers based on attitude, leadership and job performance.

Luke said she was surprised when she got the call about the award. "When my chief called me Tuesday morning, I asked him if he had the wrong number," she said.

Luke said that she is only the second woman recognized for the award, and the first woman to be recognized in eight years since Paula Perdue won the award. The Exchange Club has done the nominations since 1977.

Luke wandered into the EMS field when her former sister-in-law talked her into accompanying her to Val-Tech's EMT training. Luke was an EMT for one year, then went back to school to train as a paramedic. She is currently training to become a registered nurse.

Luke said that she likes the job because she likes meeting new people, helping others and making a difference. She said that even when she gets a call at 3 a.m. to help someone, she treats the person no differently than if the call was made in the day.

In an emergency situation, Luke said that many people get scared for different reasons and it is her job to help calm people down and make them feel comfortable. Some of the injuries and situations she encounters in the field are broken bones, baby deliveries and code blue situations -- where a person stops breathing or the heart stops.

Luke said that paramedics or EMTs never really get desensitized, they just learn to deal with their emotions.

"While on the scene you concentrate on what you're doing and deal with your emotions later," she said. "These people depend on you, so you can't break down."

The EMS has a critical incident stress management team that can help EMTs and paramedics deal with the emotions they encounter. The team keeps tabs on situations personnel endure in the field and offer them emotional support.

Luke said that the most memorable moment she has had in the field is when she arrived on the scene after a baby was delivered and she got to cut the umbilical cord. A month before the delivery, she had transported the mother to a hospital in Macon. The mother was sent home and EMS helped deliver the baby at the mother's home.

Another time, at the first aid station at Wild Adventures, Luke took a man who was having heart trouble to the hospital. After the man was released, he came back to Wild Adventures and tracked her down to thank her.

Lowndes EMS personnel go through 40 hours of training biannually and receive four hours of review and testing in advanced cardiac life support biannually. Every year they go through a review and training with an officer.

EMS receives about 11,000 calls per year, including emergency and non-emergency calls. They receive about 25-26 calls daily.

Luke said that she has seen an increase in women joining the field since she started the job. Personnel consisted of about six women out of about 45-50 EMS staff when she started. Currently there are about nine to 10 women out of about 60 EMS personnel.

Luke is involved in the community as well. She does career day each year for Lowndes Middle School, and she teaches Boy Scouts Troop 415 first aid and CPR.

She said that in the future she is considering being a Life Flight nurse and using her nursing skills on the mission field.

Luke said that the hardest thing about her job when she first started was being away from home and getting used to the schedule and sleeping arrangements.

She works in 24 hour shifts and during this time personnel are allowed to sleep at certain times. She said that it was hard to sleep through the other station's emergency tones and to listen for her station's tones. Tones from all five squads are heard at all locations and ring the number of times that correlate with the station number.

Also at the awards luncheon Thursday, Brian Gay from the Georgia State Patrol presented the Trooper of the Year award to Master Trooper Jim Brown. Capt. Dwight Pete from the Lowndes County Sheriff's Department presented the Officer of the Year Award to Lt. Mark Elkins, and Cmdr. John Fason from the Valdosta Police Department presented the Officer of the Year Award to Sgt. Earl Durrance. All recipients received a plaque and a gift of $100.

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