SEBRING — When Highlands County said a heartfelt farewell this month to EMS Capt. Lance DuVall, they also said a good-bye to one of the last volunteer first responders in the county.
DuVall started in Highlands County as a volunteer in 1988. He was hired full time in January of 1996.
He logged 25 years with Highlands County Emergency Medical Services – a total of 33 years as a paramedic in Florida – encompassing transport of 270,000 Highlands County patients, 90,000 of which were during his shift, along with 74,000 hours of shift time and at least 25,000 hours of overtime.
County officials debated on whether or not to let him off of his last shift, set to end on a morning. However, at the county meeting where they honored him, they quipped that they saw too much overtime on the books lately, which was taken by him and others in good jest.
In a farewell radio-broadcast page out at the end of his last shift, 7 a.m. July 7, his wife, Nancy – a Highlands County 911 dispatcher – thanked him publicly on behalf of Highlands County Fire Rescue, Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Consolidated Dispatch and many previous coworkers for his years of service and for “compassion for others and leadership” in serving EMS and the community.
“On behalf of your family, we love you, we are very proud of you and we are thankful for the extra time we get to spend with you,” Nancy DuVall said. “It was always fun telling you where to go, but it was also my pleasure and an honor to share the radio with my husband for 22 years.”
At which point, Lance DuVall, being filmed by county officials, got misty-eyed and thanked those around him.
When honored by HCFR Chief Marc Bashoor and the Board of County Commissioners during the July 6 commission meeting, the morning before that last shift, DuVall told the Highlands News-Sun that he had enjoyed training in most of the current EMS corps.
His advice to anyone coming up through the ranks behind him was to trust their employees to do their jobs.
As for what he had enjoyed most over the last 25-33 years and what kept him going?
“Helping people,” DuVall said. “I know it sounds corny, but it’s true.”
His retirement marks another milestone in a steady transition of Highlands County’s emergency services from largely volunteer-run to a service that merges full-time paid personnel with volunteer organizations, which still retain identity of their communities: Lake Placid, Placid Lakes, Leisure Lakes, Highlands Lakes, Highlands Park Estates, Venus, Lorida, West Sebring, Sun ‘N Lake, Sun ‘N Lakes South and DeSoto City fire departments.
Highlands County doesn’t have volunteer EMS personnel these days, although HCFR still relies heavily on volunteer fire crews to supplement a growing number of full-time paid firefighters, who have increased the ranks and helped lower response times during peak hours.
In the last three years, the county’s newly-imposed countywide fire assessment has brought in more personnel, apparatus and funds to begin building new fire stations to house crews on all shifts.