Don Lundy thought the caller was pulling his leg.
The Charleston County EMS director pulled over to the side of the road last week and asked the woman on the other line to say the words again. The caller repeated herself: Charleston County had been named EMS magazine's Paid EMS Service of the Year, a national award given annually for outstanding achievement.
The award is so coveted that Lundy called the official back one more time to make sure it was true.
"This is as good as it gets," he said Tuesday.
The award recognizes EMS agencies that go above and beyond what's expected of them, according to Marie Nordberg, associate editor with the magazine.
Charleston County EMS, which handles about 50,000 calls a year in a county covering 1,100 square miles, met those qualifications, she said.
"Charleston County impressed us with the number of programs they have, their involvement in the community and their dedication," Nordberg said. "They're just an up-and-coming, progressive service."
The award is based on six criteria ranging from innovation to programs to worker safety.
The judges noted that Charleston County developed a tri-county, multi-hospital committee to improve cardiac care. The result was a program that drastically reduced the average time it takes to get heart attack patients the lifesaving procedures they need.
The magazine also highlighted the department's back- injury-prevention program that saved the county $1 million a year in workers' compensation costs; a DUI program that improved seat belt use among high school students; and a training program that improved quality and diversity among its recruits.
"I think the biggest thing they look at is the culture of our organization," Lundy said. "As long as we focus on patient care being the most important thing we can do, everything else pretty much takes care of itself."
Lundy credited the staff of the 144-member department, County Council and the medical community for creating many of the programs on a limited budget.
"We're all on one team," he said. "We all care about the patient."
Lundy said they have applied for the award several times in the past, but this was the first time in the last couple of years. It became only the second agency in South Carolina to win the award. The North Myrtle Beach Rescue Squad won in 1997.
Lundy and a handful of employees will attend the NAEMT Expo on Sept. 28 in Dallas.
"We will fly out there and be ready in our best dressed uniforms to accept the award," he said.