Last Monday began a new chapter in La Shon Polk’s life. It was her first day as Augusta-Richmond County’s EMS coordinator.
Polk, 46, who left a career with an entertainment firm to become a firefighter, spent the past 10 years as a firefighter, acting captain and backup apparatus driver with the Fulton County Fire and Rescue Department in metro Atlanta. The decision to take an administrative role was not easy.
“I’m a firefighter,” said the Los Angeles native, who decided to become a firefighter after she dreamt one night of being one. “I really love fighting fire.”
The 14-year fire veteran applied for the Augusta job after determining how involved she would be in helping make the fire department a leader in emergency first response.
“I am a grant writer,” she said. “I think I can find us some money to do some new things. It is a great opportunity to make this department a leader in the Southeast.”
The EMS coordinator position was last held by Matthew Paynter, who left the department a few months ago and now works for Gold Cross.
“Her enthusiasm for the community was what really stood out,” Fire Chief Chris James said. “I think she is the best person to help us move forward.”
James said 58 percent of the department’s calls last year were first responses.
“For years and years most of our calls were fire-related,” he said. “Now there are a lot for first responders. Her position will help us maintain our certifications and qualifications on the EMS side of the department.”
Polk said she spent the past 10 years watching people be promoted around her even though she took every class she could find. She said James asked for a copy of each of her certifications, which now fill a 3-inch, three-ring binder. They include everything from SWAT training to Spanish for public safety.
“I told him I would need a day,” she said.
Another part of her past is an arrest in September 2004 in Cobb County on charges of cruelty to children and family battery. She said her then 15-year-old son had gone from a straight-A student with a scholarship to Georgia Tech to shoplifting and ditching school in less than eight months.
She said she spanked him one night and he called the police, telling them she had hit him with an object. The charges were dropped after police failed to find a weapon. Polk said she has a close relationship with her son and her three grandchildren now. The family is thinking of moving to Augusta.
“I never let that hold me back,” she said.
James said he was not aware of the arrest because the charges were dropped, meaning it would not show up on a background check. He said it does not change his mind about Polk’s ability to do the job.
“She was the most qualified through the interview process,” he said.
Through the years, Polk has developed a network of fire managers around the country. She said she will look to them for suggestions on how to move the department forward.
When asked about putting SUVs into service for first responder calls, she said she knows some departments that use and love them and some that do not.
“This isn’t your grandfather’s fire department,” she said. “We do more than fight fire. We are responsible for being first on the scene and saving lives. My job is to find the best way to do that.”
This job represents two things for Polk. It is validation for all the years of spending nights and weekends in classes, and it is a chance to take on a new challenge she feels passionate about.
“I am here to ensure, first and foremost, the citizens of Augusta receive the highest standard of pre-hospital care,” she said. “I am going to make sure the 325 men and women are competent, and confident, in our EMS service.”