When Lacey Spencer was growing up on a horse farm in rural Conway, Arkansas, she had no idea what a paramedic was.
“Our ambulance was our best friend’s pickup truck,” said the 32-year-old Baton Rougean with coiffed blonde hair and the dark humor of someone who makes a living responding to tragedies.
But when she did an “observation ride” with paramedics some years ago, Spencer became “addicted to the back of an ambulance,” realizing the job outshined her ambitions of going to medical school. She became an East Baton Rouge Parish paramedic in 2011.
On Wednesday, she was named Louisiana Paramedic of the Year by the Louisiana Association of Nationally Registered Emergency Medical Technicians. And in May, she was awarded Baton Rouge paramedic of the year.
“She makes work fun, even if you’re busy, even if you have a bad call. She has a cool head,” said Matt Smyer, unit commander for East Baton Rouge Emergency Medical Services.
One of Spencer’s first trainers, Smyer said, “She’s helped me re-evaluate my situation and my passion for the job. In case I was ever burned out, she got me back on track in having a good attitude.”
Spencer was chosen for both awards by a panel of emergency professionals who judge a candidate’s overall contributions. Spencer also serves on the organization’s bike team — helpful in working crowds — as well as the SWAT team and honor guard.
Parish paramedics, or “street medics” as they’re sometimes called, respond to around 55,000 calls every year, said spokesman Mike Chustz. Unlike some jurisdictions that dispatch “EMT-basics,” the city always sends paramedics, who have more training than emergency medical technicians and can administer advanced life support, medication and other functions similar to the care a patient would receive immediately upon entering an emergency room, he said.
Spencer, who graduated with a biology degree from LSU Shreveport, said she thrives in unpredictable scenarios like the time when she rescued a man with nearly-blue skin lying in front of a building on fire from chemical explosions.
“I think at first, before they really understood what I do, (my family) thought I was selling myself short,” she said, “like ‘oh, you’re just a paramedic?’ ”
But Spencer pointed out, “I’m somebody you would want to see on your worst day.”
She enjoys being looked to as the first responder on scene.
“All eyes are on you, the family’s eyes,” she said, paraphrasing: “ ‘We need some help. Hopefully you’re the right person to help me today.’ ”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.