AUSTIN, Texas - With improved PPE, sanitizing equipment, and cooler temperatures, officials with Austin Travis County Emergency Medical Services say they have been able to improve their response time, and the time units spend out of service after calls.
Both took hits this summer. “Our people are responding to confirmed COVID patients frequently and they’re responding to a lot of people that are asymptomatic,” explained Selena Xie, President of the ACTEMS Association.
Xie says the pandemic has not only taken an “emotional toll,” on first responders but has created a number of logistical challenges.
ATCEMS Chief of Staff Jasper Brown says pre-COVID an average call time, was about 50 minutes. “That’s time we pick up the phone, from the time we leave the hospital,” he explained.
Throughout the pandemic, that number has not changed.
But, the time units spend out of service after calls has. “After the call, we have to decontaminate the ambulance,” said Xie.
Brown said this summer, before first responders had access to more sophisticated PPE, they would often have to wear up to three layers of protective equipment. During those hot months, they would need to not only safely remove the gear, but change, or shower following a call.
Calls flagged with a COVID-19 risk could put a unit out of service for up to 40 minutes. Meaning a unit, could spend almost as much time out of service after a call, as it did on a call.
That caused response times to dip slightly. “Units were out of service and there’s a call in their area, another unit from further away has to take that call,” said Brown.
He explained that pre-pandemic, 87 to 88% of calls were answered, in less than ten minutes. This summer, that number dipped to about 86%.
The dip was low in part, because EMS received fewer calls, during the first few months of COVID-19, as more people stayed home. “We had fewer calls because people weren’t driving on the street so there were fewer car accidents, people weren’t in school, all sorts of things,” said Xie.
Tuesday, Brown told FOX 7 Austin response times were “about” normal.
Something he attributes to access to more advanced PPE, sanitizing equipment, and the cooler weather. He believes the city is already on track to tackle future challenges, with additional resources allocated for ATCEMS in recent budgets.