La PORTE — It doesn't matter if they're busy preparing dinner for the rest of the group in the hanger's kitchen, or laying on the bed inside one of the rest areas, trying to unwind amid a tumultuous daylong shift.  

When the next call comes over the loudspeakers inside one of La Porte County's three Emergency Medical Service ambulance bays, the men and women of the EMS never fail to answer.

Though they rarely know the situation that awaits them at their destination, the paramedics and EMTs who comprise the ambulance service's ranks are committed to providing the best care possible to citizens, according to EMS Administrator Andrew McGuire.

Though the ever-growing call volume, compounded with the stress of a 24-hour shift, makes their jobs increasingly more difficult, La Porte County EMS personnel continue to meet the high standards their superiors and the public demands, he said.

"This group knows the 'why,' as in why they do the job," McGuire said to a packed assembly room at the La Porte County Complex on Wednesday morning. "They have 100 percent buy-in. They are 100 percent in."

During its 2019 EMS Awards Ceremony, held in conjunction with National EMS Week, the department recognized two individuals who exemplify this commitment to excellence.

Taking home the 2019 Steven R. Hoskins Paramedic of the Year Award was Zach Higgins, who also serves as a field training officer for the department. 

Capt. Jeff Koon nominated the paramedic for the honor, saying the FTO, who is stationed at the La Porte base, is always willing to take on additional tasks outside his daily duties, and help others without hesitation. The captain noted that Higgins, who has worked with the county EMS for more than two years, had battled chronic back pain that could have cut short his budding career in the field, but returned with a renewed drive and focus since his surgery a year ago.

"[Higgins is] someone willing to give more each and every day, and come back for more the next, never complaining or showing signs of pain or discomfort," Koon said. "He is regarded by his shift family as fair, honest and willing to help."

Higgins thanked the captain, McGuire, Assistant Administrator Eric Fenstermaker and other EMS staff members, saying the honor was unexpected.

"I just come here, get the job done, make our employees happy and make the community happy," he said. "I feel like we do a good job as a team to do that. I have a pretty hard drive to do so."

The department also recognized Kelsi Dvorscak as its 2019 Steven R. Hoskins EMT of the Year. Lt. Grant Hunsley was among those who nominated her, due to her impressive work ethic and enthusiasm to learn more, he said. 

"What I admire most about her is her positive attitude that remains with her no matter how daunting of a task that is assigned to her or how relentless her 24-hour shift has been," Hunsley said. "Her contagious positivity is a great attribute … which is appreciated and noted by many." 

Dvorscak, who is also stationed at the La Porte base, also thanked her co-workers and superiors, adding she's learned a lot since joining La Porte County EMS in August. 

"This award is for everyone because they are the ones who taught me," she said. "Hopefully, this knowledge will carry me when I go on to become a paramedic somewhere down the road."

The EMS also recognized the late Phillip Bluhm as its 2019 David A. Harness First Responder of the Year award. 

Bluhm was the longtime chief of the Pleasant Township Volunteer Fire Department, serving over 30 years. The La Porte resident died in February due to complications following a stroke, according to his son and Pleasant Township Fire Chief Kevin Bluhm, who accepted the award.

Finally, Ed Malecki and Mike Catalano were honored with the 2019 Susan J. Kolar Citizen of the Year Award. The men assisted emergency personnel with the extraction of two women from their vehicle after it collided with a semi in Dewey Township on July 8.

Assistant Administrator Fenstermaker also took a moment to recognize the anonymous person who donated nearly $200,000 to the county last fall to purchase a seventh ambulance for the EMS fleet. Medic 7 will enter service on July 1, and will help ease the burden on the existing vehicles due to growing call volume, he said. 

"I don't think [the donor] can possibly understand what this donation has meant to our service and what it will mean to our community. ... Just this one rig, this one ambulance, will benefit thousands of people," Fenstermaker said.

Also recognized for reaching certain milestones within the department were:

• Lindsay Barth for five years of service

• Scott Erickson for 15 years of service

• Jeff Koon and Buddy Kasinger for 25 years of service

• Rodney Smoote for 30 years of service

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