Acadian Ambulance’s co-founder, Richard Zuschlag, on Thursday led viewers on a historical journey of the past 50 years, as the company marked a half-century in business.

Acadian started operating at 12:01 a.m. Sept. 1, 1971, with two ambulances and eight Vietnam War medics for staff, Zuschlag said during a livestreamed presentation. The 50-year celebration, initially scheduled for Sept. 1, was delayed a couple of months because of the COVID-19 variant and Hurricane Ida, which ravaged Louisiana’s coastline and tied up Acadian’s workforce.

“Acadian is so much more than one person, our three founders or our thousands of employees over the years. Acadian is the result of many people coming together for the cause of caring for their neighbors,” Zuschlag said. “The support we had over the years from thousands of government, civic and healthcare leaders, coupled with the dedication, hard work and commitment of our employee-owners, built Acadian.”

Today, Zuschlag said, Acadian has 652 ambulances and 5,000 employees.

Acadian serves more than 24 million people and has a service area of 56,000 square miles, mostly in Louisiana and Texas. It has transported more than 12 million people.

The webcast featured clips of keynote speakers from previous annual celebrations: Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush; NFL stars Peyton Manning and Drew Brees; coaches Lou Holtz, Les Miles and Bill Curry; former U.S. Navy Seal Rob O’Neill; and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Acadian Ambulance is one of the largest ambulance services in the nation. It is employee-owned and accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services and its sister division, Acadian Air Med is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards presented the keynote speech, reflecting on that long company history and its impact on places it serves.

“Acadian’s story is one of perseverance, combined with compassion, diversity, innovation and dedication,” Edwards said. “This combination has led to unprecedented growth and success of which you should all be very proud. Since 1971, you’ve never shut your doors, dimmed the lights or unplugged the phone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s a story, that’s a legacy, that’s Acadian.” 

As part of the annual celebration, the company honored its regional paramedics of the year; its regional EMTs of the year; Thomas Sumrall, and companywide paramedic of the year; and EMT of the year, Jonathan Cody Sides of Memphis.

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Sumrall, 27, a New Iberia native, has been with Acadian Ambulance for six years and now works in Lafayette. He currently serves as a care paramedic. He earned his EMT certification in 2014, paramedic certification in 2016 and his Critical Care Transport certification in 2017. He is a field training officer for new hires. He has served on Acadian’s Safety Wellness Awareness Team and uniform committee.

Sumrall volunteers for extra shifts, as well as extended deployments to other areas to assist with acquisitions, disasters, strike teams and staffing needs, the company said in an issued statement. Sumrall is a solid paramedic and strong advocate for his patients and coworkers. He has a positive attitude and remarkable work ethic, works honestly and is compassionate.

Outside of Acadian, Sumrall has served in the Air Force Reserve as a medic since 2018, in which he has completed a tour and received multiple awards. 

Sumrall’s father, Gerald, was a Paramedic of the Year in 1993, months before his son was born. He now works in New Mexico. With Acadian, his father also did offshore safety work, among many assignments.

Sumrall said he attended college briefly to study music, made a second pass at college later but finally earned his associate’s degree in Nebraska. He is studying for a bachelor’s in healthcare innovation and sciences online through Arizona State University. He has plans for graduate work, as well.

He said the company recently promoted him to associate quality improvement coordinator, overseeing clinical work and documentation from the crews.

He is engaged to be married next year.

Sumrall said it “took awhile for me to get used to” emergency medical work. But he said it took him from his comfort zone and helped him identify and develop new strengths.

“It toughens up your mind,” he said. “The more you do it, the more competent you get.”

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