AUSTIN, Texas - ATCEMS has been called to action during a week of protesting in Austin, and crews staged again Friday night so they could respond quickly if needed.
From heated exchanges to the actual heat, ATCEMS has been busy assisting and responding to injuries this past week. The injuries ranged from the serious, like Brad Levi Ayala getting hit in the head with a "less lethal" bean-bag round, to ones that didn't require hospitalization, like assisting those who got tear-gassed.
"Certainly a lot of those protesters treated themselves and we liked that because it freed up our medics for the more serious types of calls," said ATCEMS division chief Wesley Hopkins.
Just for last weekend, EMS reports they had more than 50 calls, including what happened during the protests. Twenty-nine were transported to the hospital, according to Hopkins, and about seven were serious injuries.
"We try to keep our shifts for medics at 12 hours but when the 911 demand is up, it could potentially go to 16 to 18-hour shifts," Hopkins said.
One type of injury Hopkins says they are seeing more of is heat-related, and a lot of water has been seen passed out at the protests.
"We're asking folks to take stock in their health mentally and physically so stay hydrated," Hopkins said. "Make sure they are wearing loose clothing, definitely bring sunscreen if you're going to be outside, don't underestimate the elements especially if you get into a large crowd."
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EMS isn't the only one out helping. Hopkins says they're been working with those volunteering, seen wearing red or white crosses. "One of the things they provide for us is rapid identification of a patient so if there are a group of people clearly marked to help that patient is easily identified," he said.
Some of the challenges Hopkins says his crews face when assisting those injured is getting injured themselves. "Our medics have not been hurt trying to help but they have had things thrown at our vehicles, certainly had protesters yell things at us so having situational awareness is very important," he said. "We do not want a medic hurt trying to help these protesters."
While there are more protests planned for the weekend, there are some changes Hopkins is hopeful will lead to fewer injuries.
Austin police have said they will no longer use bean-bag rounds to control crowds and protests have pushed for peace during flareups in the crowds.
EMS says they are ready for 12-hour shifts if the need is there. They plan to have crews scattered throughout the area and on the move so they can quickly get to a call.