With current ambulances in dire straits, Presidio EMS secures funding for new emergency vehicle 

Presidio city council pledged to purchase a new ambulance as the current ones on the street have seen better days. However, the new ambulance won’t arrive until 2022 at the earliest.

PRESIDIO – Last Wednesday, the Presidio City Council unanimously passed a motion to fund the purchase of a new ambulance. The decision comes as the city’s two emergency vehicles are nearing – or are well past – their expiration dates. Residents of Presidio and the surrounding area shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet, however. The earliest the city would see a new ambulance is January 2022.

The current estimate for a new ambulance is $181,000, according to a quote the city received from the ambulance manufacturer, Frazer. The price tag could go up to $225,000, depending on supply chain issues, fluctuations in the cost of materials and potential equipment upgrades.

Presidio residents will not be footing the majority of the cost, however. EMS Director Malynda Richardson secured $76,000 from the extraordinary emergency fund run by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Then, after the council had already committed to purchasing a new vehicle, the Big Bend Regional Hospital District pledged another $74,000 in the form of a reimbursable grant during a meeting on Thursday. The city promised to cover the rest, which could range from $31,000 to $75,000.

“I’m trying to keep that cost down because the city has very limited funds,” Richardson said.

The two ambulances currently on the streets have seen better days. The ambulance purchased most recently in 2017, a Ford F-350 colloquially known as 565, has over 142,000 miles on it. The older ambulance – a 2012 Dodge Ram also known as 564 – has driven over 182,000 miles. “You ask almost any EMS provider, if your ambulance hits 100,000 [miles], you get another one,” Richardson said at a city council meeting in April.

Considering that the closest hospital is 86 miles away in Alpine, the Presidio ambulances tack on an incredible amount of miles during each round trip. In March alone, the ambulances clocked a combined 4,332 miles for 34 EMS responses, according to the most recent EMS report. That’s an average of 127 miles per response.

“If we’re coming from Candalaria, we go 55 miles out, 55 miles in, 86 miles north, 86 miles back so it comes up to about 280 miles round trip,” Richardson said. “The mileage adds up out here.”

“You’d be hard pressed to find an ambulance in West Texas with more miles on it than these,” said Troy Sparks, a Presidio EMT who also works for Pecos County EMS services.

The issues don’t stop with the miles, particularly for ambulance 564. The latch on one of the side doors is broken. The built-in fridge for storing medicine at times doesn’t work. Worst of all, the steering is out of alignment, making the ambulance veer while on the road.

“If you know how to ice skate, then you know what it’s like to drive this,” Sparks said. Right now, 564 is in Odessa getting repairs.

Richardson said she only wants to put 564 on the road if it’s necessary, like when there’s a second emergency call. “I don’t want to think, ‘Oh, is this ambulance going to make it to Alpine?’”

In July 2019, the newer ambulance, 565, didn’t make it all the way to Alpine. “It actually broke down on the side of the road, once with a patient,” while going up Childress Hill, Richardson said. An ambulance from Marfa had to come pick up the patient and transport them to the hospital.

That summer there had been a month-long stretch where both ambulances had broken down and had been sent to the shop for repairs. Richardson was able to lease a temporary ambulance from El Paso, yet it wouldn’t arrive for three or four days. In the meantime, patients were picked up by a Border Patrol van typically used for transporting undocumented immigrants.

“[The van] is basically a pickup truck with a camper shell and a bench seat and a stretcher mount in the back. It’s not a fun ride,” she said. “Of course that was the weekend we just got slammed. I don’t want to be in that position again.”

Richardson has been on the hunt for new hospital wagons for over a year, but finding the funds to purchase a new vehicle has been an uphill battle. Richardson had initially planned to purchase two new ambulances back in September 2020 after she applied for a grant with the Texas Department of Agriculture. She even got the Big Bend Hospital District to put up $74,000. However, the deal fell through after the city was unable to produce its 2018 and 2019 audits.

Even if Richardson orders the new ambulance tomorrow, it won’t be ready for another eight to 10 months. “You really need to kind of plan ahead and unfortunately sometimes that just doesn’t work out,” Richardson said.

Yet, the demands for Presidio’s ambulances are increasing, Richardson said. Transports are on the rise, partly due to COVID, but also due to the city’s aging population.

“We have a high prevalence of diabetes and hypertension. You have people that, because of COVID, may not have been as diligent about going to see their doctor. They might not have been able to get their prescriptions refilled as easily,” she said. “What’s happening is that they have a controllable, chronic, on-going medical condition that all of a sudden becomes an acute condition that’s an emergency and they call 911.”

Richardson has already begun the fight anew to get another ambulance. She said she has been working on updating the city’s financial books so that the city will be able to apply for future grants.