Tamarac paramedic wins Broward's top award -- again

By Kevin Smith
Staff Writer
Posted June 20 2003

Tamarac The city's Fire-Rescue Department is establishing a tradition.

Lt. Percy Sayles last month became the Broward County Paramedic of the Year, making this the third consecutive year that a member of Tamarac's Fire-Rescue Department has received the award from the Broward County Fire Chief's Association. Rafael Droz won last year and Chris Dixon the year before.

The department's third consecutive win is nice, but not enough, said Sayles.

"It's to the point where we want to keep it going," said Sayles, 34. "You get known for things. Fort Lauderdale is known for their technical rescue team, Hollywood is known for haz-mat. We want to be known as the best paramedics in the county."

Tamarac's dominance of the award could be linked to the demographics and surroundings. With the Florida Turnpike and the Sawgrass Expressway winding through an older community, paramedics are called to handle violent car crashes and make delicate, complex diagnoses in the same shift.

"You have to manage so many things," Sayles said. "Let's say you get a 35-year-old who fell and wrenched his knee; that's easy. But when you have an elderly heart patient in renal failure, that changes the game a little bit."

Randy Cornell, a Tamarac firefighter and union vice-president, agreed with Sayles, saying firefighters interested in becoming expert paramedics often try to join the Tamarac department.

"They get trauma and complex pulmonary calls," Cornell said.

"You don't say, gee, I haven't seen this in three months. Chances are, you saw it an hour ago."

Tamarac Fire-Rescue Division Chief James Terry, who heads the department's paramedics and nominated Sayles for the award, described him as a leader who set examples for the award's last two winners.

"Percy is the kind of guy who recognizes obscure things and finds things most people can't," Terry said. "That's why we've had a lock on (the award), because of Percy's ability to be analytical, focused and confident."

In his nomination, Terry cited Sayles' academic background, his five years of success in paramedic competitions and his development of training programs.

Terry would have liked to include a dramatic rescue, something like Dixon's successful resuscitation of stillborn twins, but it just never came up.

"I was kind of waiting around for Percy to have that kind of call, because then we could throw in all the other stuff he's done. But it never came around, and I got tired of waiting," Terry joked. "He's just an excellent paramedic."

Sayles has his own memories though.

The Boynton Beach resident and father of four was called one early morning to the home of a woman whose lungs were failing.

"She was saying, `I ... can't ... breathe.' She could only speak in one-word sentences," Sayles said.

But after 20 minutes of work, medications and oxygen, Sayles was able to roll the woman into the hospital breathing, and speaking, almost normally.

"From not talking to being able to speak ... that's something," said Sayles.

Weeks later, a man stopped Sayles in a restaurant.

Sayles didn't recognize the man, but the man certainly remembered Sayles. He thanked the lieutenant for saving his mother's life.

"That was a pretty good call," Sayles said, smiling. "I felt pretty good about that one."

Kevin Smith can be reached at kssmith@sun-sentinel.com or 954-572-2009.