The sirens screamed and the warning lights pulsed as the ambulance sped toward a potential drug overdose victim Tuesday.
Inside the cab of "Med 1," paramedic Sandra Culver navigated her partner to the call while snapping on gloves in preparation for their arrival.
The interior of an ambulance is where Culver is comfortable. After all, she has worked in one for 32 years.
"I love what I'm doing," said Culver, a major with Gold Cross Emergency Medical Service.
Culver oversees the Columbia County crews, scheduling five two-person crews for three shifts. She keeps track of and orders supplies and manages the drugs for Gold Cross services in Columbia, Richmond and Jefferson counties.
"She's an excellent asset," said Vince Brogdon, Gold Cross director of operations. "She's kind of like the EMS mom for some of these younger folks coming in."
Today is the start of national EMS Week. Brogdon said Gold Cross will be handing out door prizes, including a donated 42-inch television, giving out restaurant gift certificates and possibly hosting a cook-out to honor the EMS workers.
He said Culver is always the first one to plan the Christmas party or other special events and tends to watch over her colleagues. Culver, who is also the assistant training officer, taught most of the training courses before Gold Cross hired a training officer.
She started in 1978 as an EMT in Warren County, where her first vehicle wreck turned out to be a serious one involving her partner's family.
"That was my first, my very first wreck," Culver said, adding she stopped and cried on the way home.
Culver later transferred to University Hospital when hospitals ran their own ambulances. She moved to Columbia County in 1985.
All her experience has earned Culver respect among her colleagues.
"She does have a love for the medical services," said Scott Clifton, who was Culver's partner for nearly nine years in the 1990s. "Don't let her size, her stature, fool you. She does have a commanding presence. People have a lot of respect for her."
Mike Wheeler, Culver's latest partner, said he's seen that first-hand. When the 4-foot-9 paramedic steps off the ambulance, everyone takes notice.
"She's the boss," Wheeler said. "We pull up, Sandra is in charge."
Culver loves her job, but admits it is not one that she can easily turn off at the end of the day.
After more than three decades caring for people in crisis situations, Culver said she's learned to deal with the things she sees, but the bad calls still take an emotional toll.
"Things still get to you," Culver said, adding that children especially tug her heartstrings.
"A lot of people get the idea that you've seen it all, you've done it all, you're used to it, that you get hard-hearted.
"It is not that you get hard-hearted. It is that you've got a job to do and if you're not there to do it and help somebody, who is going to do it?"
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.