February 23, 2022 136 PM
PRESIDIO — The city of Presidio will get to bring home a brand-new ambulance the second week of April — an occasion celebrated by local first responders after years of mechanical mishaps and wear and tear from the fleet’s regular 80-plus mile runs to the hospital in Alpine. “At this point, I just say a small prayer every morning that all the wheels keep turning,” said Malynda Richardson, who until recently had been EMS director for the city.
At the Big Bend Regional Hospital District’s regular meeting in Presidio on February 17, she updated board members on the status of the new ambulance. For Richardson, the new ambulance is the culmination of a three-year saga. She first applied for funding for a new ambulance in 2019. Funding for rural emergency services is typically grant-based, meaning that cities have to provide proof that they will be able to match a portion of the funding from their own coffers. In Presidio’s case, this would mean turning over a clean audit, which acts like the city’s credit score. That audit never crossed her desk, and she lost the grant.
Richardson tried again in 2020. Officials promised her an audit, but the audit never materialized. The deadline for the grant was extended due to COVID, but during that extension, both the city administrator and the city auditor quit. “Then the auditor delivered an adverse opinion,” Richardson remembered. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is nuts.’”
With few options left, Richardson turned to the Big Bend Regional Hospital District, who offered assistance. Governor Abbott’s Extraordinary Emergency Fund, which “support[s] the unexpected needs of EMS providers,” per the state’s website, also kicked in support.
Richardson placed the order for a new ambulance in the spring of 2021, and quickly realized that the supply chain issues affecting the auto industry would further delay her department’s quest for new wheels. She’d been waiting for months on a Ford, but a new Chevy became available, ready to be picked up in the spring.
Ambulances are highly specialized vehicles with two major components that can be mixed and matched: the chassis –– which is made up of the wheels, frame and cab of the ambulance –– and the “box,” where medical equipment and patients are transported. Presidio’s new ambulance will also come with a mounted generator that can serve as backup in the event of a breakdown.
Currently, Presidio EMS is running a 2012 Dodge and a 2017 Ford ambulance. “They’re old, and they get driven a lot,” Richardson explained. At one point, both ambulances were in the shop at the same time, and the city had to rent a vehicle. Terlingua EMS offered Richardson a “sweetheart deal”: TFEMS ambulance #4, which had broken down enough that the department didn’t want to put any more money into it. Presidio decided to take the box from ambulance #4 and pull together funding for a new chassis, so after the new ambulance arrives, there will be a second backup ambulance in the works.
The news of the Presidio ambulance is a relief for tri-county first responders after departments have had to shift resources to address gaps in coverage after the death of former Alpine Fire Chief Mike Scudder, who also owned and operated Alpine’s ambulance service. Terlingua EMS has been lending staff and vehicles to the cause, with a possibility that Presidio County departments may offer aid as well.
Presidio’s new units will hopefully ensure that the department is self-sufficient for years to come, allowing the region to recover and adapt to the challenges facing its emergency services. “[The ambulance] is brand new,” Richardson explained. “Once we get it over here there’ll be a couple of title issues and things like that, but we should be good to go. I want to make sure all that is ironed out ahead of time.”
The Big Bend Regional Hospital District is currently waiting on a $5 million grant from the USDA that would establish community paramedicine programs in Terlingua and Presidio and provide funding to fix up Presidio’s backup ambulance. “I’m pretty confident we’re going to get the grant,” BBRHD Director J.D. Newsom said at Thursday’s meeting.
Currently, EMS departments in the Big Bend are all running Frazer brand units, meaning that equipment can be switched out or loaned between towns fairly easily. While coordinating efforts between departments as spread out as they are in the tri-county region is difficult, it’s working — for now. Terlingua EMS Chief Greg Henington summed up the state of the Big Bend’s emergency medical services succinctly: “As I like to say lovingly, we are duct-taped and bubble-gummed together.”