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Featured: Ken Ponce, Founder and CEO, Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med, addresses state, county and city leaders and area residents during the ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg to celebrate the addition of Air Med 1, a multi-million dollar rotor (helicopter) air ambulance. Air Med 1 is the newest advanced life-saving resource for the privately-owned firm’s fleet of ground and air emergency medical transportation services, which includes more than 100 ambulances, wheel chair vans, supervisor units, a communications bus used for disasters, a special operations trailer equipped for mass casualty incidents, and two fixed wing Beechcraft King Air 90 air ambulances dedicated to emergency transfers. (https://www.hidalgocountyems.org/services/

Photograph Courtesy CITY OF EDINBURG

••••••

Rep. Terry Canales, Chair, House Committee on Transportation, says of Air Med 1: “I hope you never need them, but it’s a blessing to have them.”

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

As chairman of the powerful House Transportation Committee, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has an influential say and statewide understanding of the importance of highways, airways, waterways, and railways, and how vital they are to economic prosperity and safety in the Lone Star State.

So it was with no surprise that Canales agreed to be one of the keynote speakers on Tuesday, June 18, 2019 for the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the advanced, life-saving Air Med 1 – a rotor (helicopter) emergency ambulance – which is headquartered at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, located at 1300 E. FM 490, about 12 miles from the Hidalgo County Courthouse in that city’s downtown.

“The reality is that today, we are taking a milestone leap into the future. The fact is, today, you’re watching the beginning of the infrastructure that is necessary for South Texas to provide the services that are necessary to protect its citizens,” the House District 40 lawmaker emphasized. “If we do not invest in the infrastructure today, the progress that we see will stop.”

Air Med 1 is the newest addition to the privately-owned Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med’s fleet of ground and air emergency medical transportation services, which includes more than 100 ambulances, wheel chair vans, supervisor units, a communications bus used for disasters, a special operations trailer equipped for mass casualty incidents, and two fixed wing Beechcraft King Air 90 air ambulances dedicated to emergency transfers. (https://www.hidalgocountyems.org/services/)

Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med, of which Ken Ponce is Founder and CEO, has 430 highly-trained staff members, basic/advanced paramedics, certified flight paramedics, registered nurses, and support personnel.

“I hope you never need them, but it is a blessing to have them. That’s a fact,” Canales told dozens of state, county and city leaders and area residents during the event, coordinated by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

Canales, Hidalgo County Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra, Edinburg City Councilmember Jorge Salinas, and Patrick Eronini, then-Chair, Board of Directors, South Texas International Airport at Edinburg, were among the dignitaries on hand for the official launching of the multi-million dollar Bell 407GX air ambulance.

Along with its highly-trained flight and medical teams, Air Med 1 can achieve a top velocity of 140 miles per hour to reach seriously ill or injured people in the most remote or inaccessible areas of Hidalgo County, and bring them to the area’s major hospitals with life-saving speed.

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.

(http://www.medflight911.com/resources/blog/fixed-wing-v-rotor-wing-medflight911-air-ambulance)

“The reality is our county is sparsely populated, which needs the air ability to get to the people when they need it. You may have heard recently that Hidalgo County leaders have been fighting for Trauma 1. Well, I led the charge for Trauma 1 about a year ago with Sen. (Juan “Chuy”) Hinojosa (D-McAllen), and one of the items you have to check off to get Trauma 1 is that ‘bird’ sitting right there,” Canales motioned to Air Med 1. “If you don’t have the ‘bird’, you don’t get Trauma 1.”

“Trauma 1” is the highest designation provided for trauma centers, which are capable of providing total care for every aspect of injury – from prevention through rehabilitation. 

(https://www.amtrauma.org/page/TraumaLevels).

During the 86th Texas Legislature, which held its 140-day regular session from mid-January through late May 2019, Rio Grande Valley legislators were successful in securing “$17 million to strengthen trauma system infrastructure statewide, of which at least $6 million of the funds will go towards ensuring that South Texas has a life-saving Level 1 trauma center in the near future,” according to Hinojosa.

“Trauma 1 is so important. It’s called the ‘Golden Hour”,” Canales said. “When serious trauma happens, you have about an hour before your life is truly, truly in jeopardy, when it can be saved.”

The “Golden Hour” was first described by R. Adams Cowley, MD, at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore. From his personal experiences and observations in post-World War II Europe, and then in Baltimore in the 1960s, Cowley recognized that the sooner trauma patients reached definitive care— particularly if they arrived within 60 minutes of being injured — the better their chance of survival.

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 (helicopter) 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.

Guerra, the Hidalgo County sheriff, recalled when Ponce proposed bringing Air Med 1 after Air Evac Lifeteam stopped its service in deep South Texas.

“Right away, I endorsed the project and told him whatever he needed from my office, it was very well needed,” Guerra said. “I told him about the challenges these other companies have had, but in talking with him, and the commitment that he has placed here in Hidalgo County and South Texas, what he has done is just amazing. I feel confident that under his leadership, his guidance, this air ambulance will be here for a long time, and I’m pretty sure it is going to be successful.”

Salinas, in addition to serving on the Edinburg City Council, is President, Board of Directors, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

“I know this has been a long time in the works, and we have been behind you, Kenny,” Salinas said. “You said what you were going to do, and you did it. I want you to know, as I speak for myself, I am behind you, and we are glad to have you here.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Pastor Robert Coronado, iLife Church of Edinburg.

“You know, the Lord came to serve,” Coronado addressed the audience, then turned his attention to Ponce. “Kenny, you are here to serve. Hidalgo County EMS and Air Med are coming together to serve this community.

“I told Kenny, ‘Kenny, this is a dream coming true. God gave you a vision.’” Coronado continued, promising, “He will give you the provision.”

Ponce, who was the final speaker for the event, was visibly moved and humbled by the outpouring of praise, but he shared the credit with his two families – his wife, their children and his parents – and with the loyal staff members of Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med.

“Please look around you at this beautiful country, but the vastness of this region makes it challenging – a vastness that affects time that a critically-ill or injured person doesn’t have when they are in need of crucial life-saving care,” he said.

“We at Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med accept this challenge,” Ponce reaffirmed. “We stand committed that we will serve the highest standards of medical transport service, land and air, and if need, or water. In closing, may God bless each and everyone of you, pray for all the 911 responders as they put their lives on the line every time they answer a call for help.”

Highlights of the presentation during the Tuesday, June 18, 2019 launching of Air Med 1 at the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg follow:

PAUL VAZALDUA
Vice President of Organizational Leadership 
and Government Affairs
Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med

Good morning, and what a landing that was. What a great welcome to Edinburg. Thank you all for being here. 

My name is Paul Vazaldua, and I am Vice President of Organizational Leadership and Government Affairs
for Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med.

I would like to start by inviting Pastor Robert Coronado to come up and give a benediction.

PASTOR ROBERT CORONADO
iLife Church
Edinburg

Good morning. 

Before we begin, I’d just want to say that I do recognize some of your faces, especially the troopers and the (Edinburg) Chief of Police (César Torres). It’s nice to run into you again. You may wonder, “What is this guy doing here again?” It sounds like my “suegro” (father-in-law). Every time he would turn around, he would see me because I was after his daughter, and I finally got her.

Today, you wonder, why am I here? I want to share something with you. Two very important people from my church. I’m sure you know Trooper Moisés Sánchez. He is a church member. We brought the whole community together praying for him. He’s now in Houston, doing better, and getting treatment. But you know who flew him there? You knew you flew him there? These guys did.

You know David right here? He’s also a church member. He asked me, “Can you come and pray for what we’re doing here?” I said, “Of course I will. Of course I want to pray for you guys. I want to make sure that everything goes well. I want to give the best that I have, and my best desires for each and everyone of you.”

Because you know what? At the end of the day, we are all a family, right? We’re all family.

I have a Bible verse that I want to share with you, that I think is important in this context.

It says in Psalms 139: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up into the heavens, you are there. If I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise in the winds of the dawn, if I settle in the far side of the sea, even there, your hand will guide me. Your right hand will hold me fast.”

And then it says:

“Even the darkest will not be dark to you. The night will shine like the day. The darkness is light to you.”

This is my desire for this special equipment.

You know, the Lord came to serve.

I know you guys are here. Kenny, you are here to serve. I told Kenny, “Kenny, this is a dream coming true. God gave you a vision. He will give you the provision. Remember I told you that? So we want to pray on that. Let’s bow our heads together.

Father, as we come here together, we pray that in this moment, Father, your presence, your protection, your provision will be here. 

Hidalgo County EMS and Air Med are coming together to serve this community.

Lord, we pray for safety. We pray, God, for comradery.

…….

PATRICK ERONINI
Chairman, Board of Directors
South Texas International Airport at Edinburg

Good morning, everybody. 

It’s a beautiful day in the City of Edinburg. Indeed, great things are happening in our city.

On behalf of the Airport Board, I want to thank the airport manager, Deborah, for all she does to keep the airport running. 

I also want to thank the other airport board members: Miguel Garza; Dr. Hazem Kanaan;
Leonel Guerrero; and Frank Pérez.

I want to thank the ambulance service for choosing our airport to be the home base for this new project. We are very glad to have them here.

For those who are not aware, we have a (U.S.) Customs terminal here so you can actually check out through our airport and land in Mexico. You can go anywhere you want internationally. We are open for business, so any Mexico-related business you may want to engage, we are open to speak with you. Please come talk to us, and you will find we will be very welcoming partners to you.

I want to introduce Mr. Jorge Salinas to speak on behalf of the City of Edinburg.

COUNCILMEMBER JORGE SALINAS
Edinburg City Council

Kenny (Ponce), you want to come up over here with us?

Good morning, everybody. The mayor and mayor pro tem couldn’t be here; they had some other engagements.

Like Mr. Eronini said, we are glad to have you here in Edinburg. Thank you for choosing our airport. 

I know this has been a long time in the works, and we have been behind you, Kenny. 

You said what you were going to do, and you did it. 

I want you to know, as I speak for myself, I am behind you, and we are glad to have you here. 

Like they said: “Something good is happening here.”

PAUL VAZALDUA

Thank you, Councilmember.

When we started this journey, we began to reach out to many people, hospitals, other EMS companies. One of the areas we decided to first reach out was our top law enforcement official here in Hidalgo County. I would like to invite Sheriff Eddie Guerra to come say a few words for us.

J.E. “EDDIE” GUERRA
Sheriff, Hidalgo County

First of all, I want to congratulate Hidalgo County EMS on this great event. 

We’ve always had an air service in Hidalgo County, at think for the past 20 some-odd years, and some of those air services had some difficult times.

I remember talking with Kenny when he was proposing to bring a helicopter here. Right away, I endorsed the project and told him whatever he needed from my office, it was very well needed.

I told him about the challenges these other companies have had, but in talking with him, and the commitment that he has placed here in Hidalgo County and South Texas, what he has done is just amazing. I feel confident that under his leadership, his guidance, this air ambulance will be here for a long time, and I’m pretty sure it is going to be successful.

Like Councilmember Salinas said, it is a great day for the City of Edinburg, it is a great day for the county of Hidalgo, and thanks to our state representatives, it’s going to be a great day for the state of Texas now having this air ambulance here, and I want to congratulate them, and all of you who put this thing together.

PAUL VAZALDUA

Truly a community coming together to provide a service. 

Air Med 1 is an asset we really don’t want you to call us for because it is something that involves major trauma, major motor vehicle accidents. But it is an asset we want to see in our community to be available.

I want to call up State Representative Terry Canales who has done so much work this past session, not only for the Edinburg airport, but on other legislative matters. I keep reading twitter where the governor signs the bills that he authored. We are so proud of him, and I am so glad to call him my friend: Terry Canales.

REP. TERRY CANALES, D-EDINBURG
Chair, House Committee on Transportation
Texas House of Representatives

Good morning. What a great day.

This airport doesn’t look that big, but it is bigger than you would think. It houses DPS, it houses SWAT, it houses Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Department of Homeland Security at times.

The fact of the matter is that this place is ideally situated to be the epicenter of not only of law enforcement activity, private aircraft activity, but now Hidalgo County EMS.

I hope you never need them, but it is a blessing to have them. That’s a fact.

The reality is our county is sparsely populated which needs the air ability to get to the people when they need it. You may have heard recently that Hidalgo County leaders have been fighting for Trauma 1. Well, I led the charge for Trauma 1 about a year ago with Sen. Hinojosa, and one of the items you have to check off to get Trauma 1 is that bird sitting right there. If you don’t have the bird, you don’t get Trauma 1.

Trauma 1 is so important. It’s called the ‘Golden Hour”. When serious trauma happens, you have about an hour before your life is truly, truly in jeopardy, when it can be saved.

The reality is that today, we are taking a milestone leap into the future. The fact is, today, you’re watching the beginning of the infrastructure that is necessary for South Texas to provide the services that are necessary to protect its citizens. If we do not invest in the infrastructure today, the progress that we see will stop.

It’s imperative that Hidalgo County leaders, that people like Kenny and Hidalgo County EMS, join together to form a comprehensive plan, not only for emergency services, for traffic infrastructure, for law enforcement. All of those things combine. You’re watching them come in. This is Edinburg. This is the future. 

Thank you for being here.

Thank you Hidalgo County EMS.

Like I said, I hope you never need them – but its a blessing to have them.

Thank you.

PAUL VAZALDUA

Thank you, Terry.

I would like to invite a man of vision, a man of determination, a man who is very persistent. When I came on board with Hidalgo County EMS, Kenny Ponce told me this project was going to come to fruition. 

Right before I bring him up to the podium, I would like to introduce some of our staff who are here.

Our Director of Operations, Martín García.

Max López, who is our Aviation Director.

Drew Richards, who is our Director of Communications. Today, Drew manages ground communications and air communications, so we are really proud of our communications center. We have state-of-the-art medical priority transport, and we are the only company south of San Antonio which holds a full-fledged license for those life-saving tools.

Without further ado, I would like to welcome Mr. Kenny Ponce, our President and CEO.

KEN PONCE
Founder and CEO
Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med

I can only imagine. I was driving home one evening, trying to think what I am going to tell my wife when we were sitting over dinner, how we were going to pay for a $4.1 million aircraft. You can only imagine my thoughts, and that night we had dinner, it was just quiet on my end. But I finally got it out, and she’s finally accepted it.

I want to thank everybody for being here. My name is Kenneth Ponce, the Founder and CEO of Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med. It is truly an honor today. I consider this to be a historic day, not only for us, but for the entire Rio Grande Valley.

Today, I am proud to announce that Hidalgo County EMS and South Texas Air Med will provide rotor ambulance service for most of deep South Texas, from South Texas International Airport here in Edinburg.

However, before I speak any further, I would like to take this moment to recognize all of the dignitaries present. 

First, I would like all of the members of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce to please stand up and be recognized. The are truly amazing people. They are our hosts for today’s event.

Now, I would like to thank all of the following elected officials, and the people who have been involved with this, and I will go through the list real quick:

Congressman Vicente González ;
Congressman Henry Cuellar;
Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr.;
Rep. Mando Martínez;
Rep. Eddie Lucio, Jr.;
Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr.;
Rep. Terry Canales;
Rep. Bobby Guerra;
Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortéz;
Hidalgo County Commissioner Ellie Torres;
Hidalgo County Commissioner Joe Flores;
Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantú; and
Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes.

I know that the mayor is not here, but he has been very supportive towards what we have done, and the council as well: Councilmembers Gilbert Enríquez, Homer Jasso, Jr., Jorge Salinas, and Mayor Pro Tem David Torres. 

I would also like to thank my wife and children – would you stand up, please?

My parents – my Mom and Dad.

And last, but not least, thanks to all of the Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med personnel. Just wave your hands wherever you are. I want to thank you so much for that.

In all seriousness, these people are the most dedicated people I have ever known. Your devotion to duty and your professional demeanor is greatly appreciated.

Ladies and gentlemen, the future is here today. 

Twenty five years ago, when I first got on a helicopter, the safety features that weren’t there. We didn’t wear helmets, and the equipment wasn’t there, but the service was there.

When you fly out to a ranch that’s 25 miles north of the county for snake bite, or somebody is in a traffic accident, time is essential, so we need to get people to the hospital as quick as we can. It would take an ambulance 45 minutes to an hour, but we can reach areas of the county within 15 or 20 minutes.

How many of you are familiar the term the “Golden Hour”? Let me explain. 

Trauma-related injuries remain one of the leading causes of death in America. Treatment is crucial, and successfully managing trauma victims without small delays possible to avoid death. One of the fundamental tenets of trauma care is the  “Golden Hour” – a term use to emphasize the importance of treating trauma patients as quickly as possible. National surveys have shown the use of rotor services, when needed, reduces the mortality rate by at least 60 percent.

Please look around you at this beautiful country, but the vastness of this region makes it challenging – a vastness that affects time that a critically-ill or injured person doesn’t have when they are in need of crucial life-saving care. 

We at Hidalgo County EMS/South Texas Air Med accept this challenge. We stand committed that we will serve the highest standards of medical transport service, land and air, and if need, or water. In closing, may God bless each and everyone of you, pray for all the 911 responders as they put their lives on the line every time they answer a call for help.

Thank you.

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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.com).

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