ATCEMS crew to be on site at Austin airport as part of pilot program

Paramedics with Austin-Travis County EMS are now part of Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)

As of Wednesday, March 1, every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., a crew will be on site, according to ATCEMS Division Chief Stephen White.

"This is a lot about time. And it's a lot about how long it takes to get to a patient at a gate in the Secure side of the airport," said Division Chief White.

Up until now, the closest paramedics were at a fire station on the north side of HWY 71. It can be a 16-minute response time to the main terminal. 

The fire station, next to the runways at the airport, is set up for flight emergencies The pilot program keeps the firefighters out on the tarmac by having the paramedics in the terminal.

"Correct. We're also keeping the firefighters and the paramedics that are out there, on the streets. Out there on the streets, available for calls. And not here," said Division Chief White.

There's also another important logistical point. It was determined 65% of the EMS calls to the airport resulted in patients being treated and released on site. Every dispatch involved an ambulance taking it away from nearby neighborhoods. That caused a coverage dilemma and union president Selina Xie said paramedics are happy to see come to an end.

"And it's very frustrating for them to have to go to the airport to wait an hour, to wait to be escorted in. And they feel like that they're not available for their community, and they hear calls being told out. So then other ambulances from other parts of town have to come in and help, and they just want to take care of the, you know, neighborhoods and community that they're in. And they really think that we need a better resource that makes more sense for the airport there," said Xie.

This is not a permanent assignment, just yet. It’s part of a one-year pilot program approved by the city council.

"And so by having that information, we can make the case as to why it needs to be integrated into the Aviation Department's regular operations," said District 2 Council member Vanessa Fuentes.

Fuentes sponsored the pilot program ordinance. She told FOX 7 the one-year study is expected to cost $460,000.

"So this will be paid for by the airlines. I think that's really important for Austinites to know that the fees associated with having paramedics on site does get access to our airlines during the fee schedule," said Fuentes.

The paramedics will work out of a temporary location at the airport until a new staging area is set up near the central TSA checkpoint. The paramedics who are assigned to the airport have to go through TSA clearance.

"And I think it's going to prove itself very quickly. South by Southwest is starting up in a few days. And so this place is going to, be very, very busy. I think that, in a very short amount of time, we'll be able to prove the value of having onsite paramedics in the airport. And we'll be able to look at the response times in the surrounding Communities to see if we've made any improvement there as well," said Division Chief White.

When the pilot program ends in March 2024, it will probably need to be re-authorized by the city to continue.