Featured: A Bell 407 rotor (helicopter) ambulance, named Air Med 1, is the newest addition to the fleet of ground and air emergency medical transportation services being provided to South Texas by Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med. A ribbon cutting ceremony and press conference for the advanced, life-saving Air Med 1 will take place on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, beginning at 10 a.m., at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, located at 1300 E. FM 490, which is about 12 miles from the Hidalgo County Courthouse traveling on I-69N. For more information, individuals may contact Paul M. Vazaldua, Jr., Vice President of Organizational Leadership and Government Affairs for Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med, at 956/451-6775, or log on to https://www.facebook.com/HidalgoCountyEMS
Photograph Courtesy HIDALGO COUNTY EMS/SOUTH TEXAS AIR MED
Air Med 1, a Bell 407 rotor ambulance, to be celebrated with ribbon-cutting ceremony and news conference at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 18, at South Texas International Airport at Edinburg
A ribbon cutting ceremony and press conference to officially celebrate the arrival of Air Med 1, a Bell 407 rotor (helicopter) ambulance, has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, according to Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med.
The city-owned airport is located at 1300 E. FM 490, which is about 12 miles from the Hidalgo County Courthouse traveling on I-69N.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, who also serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, and Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra will be among the area leaders scheduled to participate in the event. Executives, and trauma and emergency room professionals, from hospitals and medical facilities in Brownsville, Edinburg, Harlingen, Laredo, McAllen, Starr County and Weslaco have been invited to attend.
In a public invitation titled “Save the Date – Air Med 1 Ribbon Cutting and Press Conference”, Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med, which is a private business, states the event is designed to announce “the service of rotor ambulance in deep South Texas”.
Air Med 1 represents the fulfillment of a promise earlier this year by the leadership of Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med to bring the life-saving capabilities of the rotor ambulance to deep South Texas after Air Evac Lifeteam in McAllen immediately ceased operations on Thursday, January 31, 2019.
Air Evac Lifeteam had been operating from McAllen Medical Center since its October 2011 opening, according to an Air Evac Lifeteam press release distributed to media outlets in the Valley announcing their departure from the region, which has an estimated 1.5 million residents.
Restoring rotor (helicopter) emergency air ambulance service to Hidalgo County is the right thing to do, said Kenny Ponce, President/CEO of privately-owned Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med.
“It’s something we have been working on the past several months to ensure that this community has this type of service,” said Ponce. “In the meantime, we do have two fixed wing (aircraft) ambulances for emergency flight service to and from the Valley.”
Helicopter (rotor) and fixed-wing aircraft typically play very different roles. Helicopters can be seen as substitutes for ground ambulances, because they can land almost anywhere. They typically serve patients in true emergency situations, where quick access to a trauma center is literally a matter of life and death.
Because airplanes are less flexible about where they can land and take off they are typically not used to transport patients from the scene of the emergency to the hospital. They also have a much longer range than helicopters do, so they can travel farther distances without refueling. Yet they can still offer life-supporting care for patients who are critically ill or injured. So fixed-wing air ambulances are more often used to transport patients from one hospital to another.
Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med have more than 100 ambulances, wheel chair vans, supervisor units, as well as a communications bus used for disasters, and a special operations trailer equipped for mass casualty incidents, and two fixed wing Beechcraft King Air 90 air ambulances dedicated to emergency transfers.
Paul M. Vazaldua, Jr., Vice President of Organizational Leadership and Government Affairs for Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med, said the region’s residents are fortunate to have the largest EMS (emergency medical service) company south of San Antonio with the vision to make helicopter emergency air ambulance service available.
“Hidalgo County EMS services 90 percent of Hidalgo County residents, from pediatric to geriatric patients – and every person in between. We think of everyone. We always remember, ‘What if it is my baby or my grandma who needs ambulance service?’” Vazaldua said. “We deeply care for all families. It is this high level of dedication to life-saving public service that inspires Hidalgo County EMS and its sister company, South Texas Air Med, to move forward with this initiative to provide helicopter emergency ambulance service.”
Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med has 430 highly-trained staff members, basic/advanced paramedics, certified flight paramedics, registered nurses, and support personnel.
“We bring the unmatched abilities to promote, extend, and save lives in the Rio Grande Valley, a major metropolitan region with an estimated population of 1.4 million residents or more,” Vazaldua said. “We pride ourselves on EMS (emergency medical services) training. Our experienced men and women are ready at a moment’s notice to provide top quality care and support services for our patients and professional associates. Our EMT B/A and Paramedic staff are highly skilled and participate in training and refresher courses on a regular basis.”
MOST OF ESTIMATED 180,000 PEOPLE IN THE VALLEY LIVING WITH A DISABILITY ARE NOT PREPARED TO DEAL WITH A DISASTER SUCH AS A HURRICANE
There are almost 180,000 people in the Rio Grande Valley living with a disability, and most are not prepared to deal with a disaster like a hurricane. Recent findings like those from students in a disasters studies course at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley showed a disturbing trend of unwillingness among area residents to abandon their homes in favor of personal safety.“
We were surprised that so many respondents were unwilling to evacuate,” said Lisa Tresnicky, a UTRGV senior from Mercedes who is majoring in sociology. “That just showed how important it is that we share this information and that we spread the awareness of how critical it is that they do prepare and take a proactive approach to disaster preparedness.”
Filling Research Void
Tresnicky was one of a group of UTRGV students who presented their research findings to local emergency management officials during a panel forum in May 2019.
Antonio López, Weslaco emergency management coordinator, was one of the panelists.
“We are a lot of times tasked with the response, the mitigation and the recovery of things,” he said. “We don’t have a lot of time to do that research. So, when we partner up with the university to bring that data to us, it’s going to make our response a lot better.”
López said some of the numbers presented were higher than expected.
“The research from the four groups from this program really puts it into perspective for us,” he said.
Sharing Information Directly
Dr. Dean Kyne, a UTRGV Assistant Professor in the Disaster Studies Program, said disaster preparation can be a very complicated process.
“Now the students know there are a lot of challenges for the preparedness, especially for the disabled population. The complexity is there,” he said.
The conventional way to share research is by publishing in a peer-reviewed journal. And while there are plans to publish the findings, Kyne said that as part of the course’s service-learning component, “We have to provide the findings directly to the end-user, who are the emergency managers here.”
Seeing the Study’s Impact
While the overall goal of the research is to improve the Valley’s disaster resiliency and sustainability, the forum also helped students see the value of their work.
“It was a great opportunity to share the data we gathered with key stakeholders in the community,” Tresnicky said. “It made me feel that what we did is important. Our data can help enhance the preparedness of this vulnerable population.”
López, the Weslaco emergency management coordinator, said he is optimistic about future disaster communications in the Valley.
“By getting this research – and hopefully in the future continuing the collaboration with the UTRGV disaster studies program – this will give us all the data we need to continue improving,” he said.
To learn more about the UTRGV Disaster Studies program, visit https://www.utrgv.edu/
To learn how to prepare for a disaster, visit ready.gov.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.
UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.
VIDEO by María Elena Hernández:
María Elena Hernández contributed to this article. For more information, contact Paul M. Vazaldua, Jr., Vice President of Organizational Leadership and Government Affairs for Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med, at 956/451-6775. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.