George Steffensen has spent his life saving lives, mentoring upcoming paramedics, and earning countless awards for his work. The newest addition to his collection of honors is EMS Paramedic of the Year, a badge he proudly wears with his uniform each day.
In 2007, Steffenson retired from the hustle and bustle of New York City for a home in Brusly and began working with EMS in East Baton Rouge. While working in New York, he received Paramedic of the Year for saving the lives of two children. He also earned several medals of valor over the
years, one most memorably for rescuing a firefighter from a 23 story building.
With 46 years of experience, Steffensen is more than qualified for a position as supervisor or director of field operations, but that’s not where he wants to be. The six-foot-four paramedic admits to hitting his head on hanging oxygen tanks sometimes, but he’s still most comfortable and happy in the back of the ambulance.
“When they hired me they asked where I want to be in five years I told them in the back of that [ambulance],” Steffensen said with a laugh.
When he’s not riding in the back, he’s either working as a bike medic, a tactical medic with the SWAT team or as a rescue diver. Or, he’s enjoying a ride with his wife and motorcycle crew, the Road Docs.
Despite his veteran status, he doesn’t scoff at questions from young EMT’s, or “puppy medics,” he welcomes them. He works as a field training guide and has published three books about his experiences and lessons learned.
“He’s capable of working with anybody, he’s willing to step out and help anybody, anytime,” EMS spokesman and paramedic Mike Chustz, also a resident of Brusly, said.
The ride is rarely easy and always comes with the risk of danger. Steffenson was attacked by a man wielding a knife and has treated patients on active shooter scenes. He’s had five operations due to job-related injuries. However, his favorite spot is still in the back of the ambulance.
“I love helping people, it’s cool to be able to fix somebody,” he said.
The job takes its toll, though, mentally and physically. Steffensen and his wife, a retired paramedic, responded to the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. They lost 400 emergency first responders that day, many of whom they considered friends. There are things people will never get used to and won’t be able to unsee, but having a work family of paramedics that understand and offer an outlet is a big part of the coping process, Steffensen said.
Each year Steffensen rides 68 miles from New Orleans to Baton Rouge on a bicycle as a part of the Louisiana EMS Memorial Bike Ride to honor fallen paramedics. He admittedly signed up for the event thinking it was a motorcycle ride but didn’t back down from the challenge when he realized he would be riding a different kind of bike.
He is a principal part of the Louisiana EMS Memorial Bike Ride and has gotten the East Baton Rouge EMS more involved in the program over the years, Chustz said. This year, members of EMS from East Baton Rouge will participate in the Louisiana EMS Memorial Bike Ride on Sept. 15.
“We risk our lives together with firefighters and police officers,” he said.
Steffensen and Chustz joked that they must be crazy for loving their line of work, then they agreed there’s some truth in that joke, with a laugh. Both also agree it doesn’t feel like work most days.
The honor of Paramedic of the Year is something Steffensen takes pride in, but the accomplishments of his daily work in meeting people and saving lives are something he considers much more important.
“I love what I do, I love helping people, and it’s an honor for my peers to think of me as a good example,” Steffensen said.