Just In Case

El Campo EMS operates off the motto “We’re There Because We Care,” and that means helping the sick or injured even if it requires body armor to do so. Pictured (l-r) are EMTs Rebecca Smith, Christopher Fiore and Angela Vargas.

El Campo EMS crews are preparing for if, or when, their job goes from caring for the injured to facing danger themselves.

Medical workers are not immune to the national trend of rising violence, El Campo EMS Chief Weston Davis said, adding that’s why he made the decision to purchase combat-rated helmets and bullet resistant vests for ambulance crews.

“Fort Bend EMS is doing the same thing. The incidence of mass shootings has continually increased across the nation. However, this was not the primary reason for this purchase. EMS providers have increasingly been the targets of violence around the world. There are frequent stories of EMS providers being shot at or stabbed while responding to calls,” Davis said.

The $5,173.67 cost was funded by a combination of billing fees and Emergency Services District No. 4 dollars. Gear was not issued to every EMT. Instead, sets were placed inside the ambulances.

It can been worn with infection control devices like masks and gowns, if needed, during the pandemic.

“EMS personnel are directed to use the equipment when there is actual or a suspicion of violence on the scene of an emergency,” Davis said. “To date, EMS personnel have used the equipment once on a shooting scene where the whereabouts of the suspect were unknown.”

A recent example of a hazardous situation is the murder of a man on Alice Street where EMTs arriving on the location were, like police, still trying to determine exactly what happened.

“It’s not for us to decide. It’s when police say it’s safe (to approach), but it still could be volatile,” EMS Department Public Information Officer Darlene Giesalhart said.

Having body armor allows for a quicker response in emergency crime scenes involving a gun or knife, Davis said. “Without protective equipment, EMS would need to stage down the road and only approach once the scene is fully secure,” he added.

EMTs have been put in danger before and did not have the appropriate protection, he said.

The Olive Street murder and arson early this year is an example. Giesalhart was one of the paramedics responding to the emergency. They raced in to help a shooting victim, transported her and then returned to assist fire crews battling the blaze. At the time, no one knew that the suspect wasn’t still within firing range.

The worst case scenario of a mass shooting is another situation where the combat weight gear (the vest weighing around 20 pounds) would be used to protect EMTs. In that case, protocol calls for EMS crews protected by police to be able to come into danger zones to quickly assess patients, stop the bleeding and start airways, if needed.

Although the armor is already on the ambulances, the coronavirus pandemic has delayed training.

“We do need more training,” Giesalhart said. “The goal is to get with their (police Special Response Teams). Our most senior person would train with them. I, for example, have police experience.”

While the gear is there for protection, Giesalhart said, “I hope it never happens. I hope we are never put in that situation, but any life-saving measures we can do, we are willing to do, to help, if it will save someone.”

The department is modifying gear as well, creating lightweight bags with limited materials for immediate needs.

“The new bag is specifically designed to carry only items to keep someone breathing and to stop bleeding. These bags carry this equipment to treat multiple patients at once,” Davis said.

They are packed similarly to a military combat medic bag, it includes bandages, tourniquets, material to treat a sucking chest wound, help with breathing and the like. It does not, however, include pain medications.

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