Marathon to receive ambulance, EMT training from Emergent Air

BREWSTER COUNTY — Emergent Air, the emergency services provider that has been serving North Brewster County since last summer, plans to contribute an ambulance and EMT training to the Marathon Volunteer Fire Department — a development that would significantly quicken response time and bolster the level of care available to the remote community.

The anticipated development was announced by Brewster County Judge Greg Henington at Tuesday’s Brewster County Commissioners Court meeting. Henington, along with Commissioner Ruben Ortega, had been in talks with Emergent Air about the arrangement, which would allow first responders to serve Marathon patients in an ambulance and then transport them towards Big Bend Regional Medical Center in Alpine — either carrying them the whole journey or rendezvousing with Alpine responders midway.

“I think it’s great for Marathon and great for Brewster County,” said Henington.

Walter Kuykendall, program manager for Emergent Air, told The Big Bend Sentinel that the company already has an ambulance ready to deploy to Marathon — but first, firefighters with the Marathon Volunteer Fire Department will have to trained as emergency responders. Emergent Air has plans to sponsor that training, said Kuykendall — that includes paying for the necessary classes, books and testing to receive the requisite license.

Emergent Air would also provide medical equipment, including a cardiac monitor, so Marathon responders could provide a higher level of care before initiating transport to the nearest hospital.

“It would get a higher level of service there quicker. Currently their first responders aren’t built for medical — they’re a fire department,” said Kuykendall. 

Henington said the arrival of the new ambulance and accompanying training would be something all parties would work towards in the coming months. Kuykendall was unable to provide a precise timeline, but said he hoped the development would be a done deal in the first quarter of 2023. 

Marathon Fire Chief Brad Wilson said the change would be a godsend for the community, which currently depends on ambulance services from Alpine. 

“We generally try to get people out to a hospital within an hour — what we call a golden hour — when they’re hurt or having heart attacks, and unfortunately right now, waiting on an ambulance to come from Alpine eats up every bit of that hour,” Wilson explained. “Having an ambulance in town is going to step that up a lot.”

WIlson’s department consists of six volunteer firefighters — so far, four have expressed interest in receiving EMT training, he said. Being a volunteer department, the cost of EMT training had previously been prohibitive, he said. Emergent Air’s sponsorship will make providing the essential service possible.

The lack of an urgent care facility in Marathon makes the presence of an ambulance and EMTs even more important, said Wilson — it will make it possible for first responders to provide certain forms of medical care to patients right away. And Marathon’s current dependence on Alpine’s ambulance has stretched emergency services in the region thin — if an ambulance has to be dispatched to Marathon, for instance, that means it would be absent from Alpine if needed.

“It’ll help out both communities, and it’ll definitely help the people we serve,” said Wilson. “There’s definitely a lot of progress being made as far as getting medical help here in town — as far as that goes, I think this is a step in the right direction.”