First Responders Reviewing Emergency Response Protocols
ARROYO CITY – Residents of Arroyo City are worried about getting the right help dispatched to them when they call 911.
A caller was rerouted several times before the correct ambulance service was dispatched to Arroyo City. The delay only lasted a few minutes. But those who live and work in Arroyo City said that time could make the difference between life and death.
Arroyo City Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Whelan was called out to help a man suffering a heart attack.
“After the initial call, we were activated 12 minutes after,” he said.
The man didn’t survive.
Whelan said there was a delay in transferring the call to the South Texas Emergency Care foundation which responds to EMS calls in Arroyo City.
“It took an extended time to get a hold of the correct medical response team to come out, whenever they did notify them, we were notified within minutes. But it took a few extra minutes to notify the ambulance so that they could notify us to respond,” he said.
Rene Perez, director of transport services for STEC, said they get dispatched by cities or Cameron County based on the location of the caller requesting help.
During the call, it was the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office that got the initial call for help, and then rerouted the call to STEC.
“From the time that we got the call to the time that the unit was dispatched was less than a minute, so from our standpoint, if there’s a delay before that, we don’t see that because we only can pick it up from the time we get the call,” Perez explained.
Whelan claimed it took several calls before Cameron County reached STEC. He showed a diagram of how the calls were rerouted. The initial call went to Cameron County. The dispatcher then sent the call to Los Fresnos. Then it was once again rerouted to Harlingen police before finally reaching STEC.
It was all in a matter of minutes, but Whelan is concerned especially since Arroyo City draws plenty of crowds over the summer.
“For the public to be assured that that their calls are going to be answered and transferred is the one issue that we’re not sure about,” he said.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS reached out to the Cameron County Emergency Services District, which is in charge of ensuring county areas are covered by emergency responders.
The board president, Carlos Garza, is also a captain for the Cameron County Sheriff’s Department. He wasn’t aware of the call in question but said his dispatchers are highly trained.
He is looking into the claims.
Last year, STEC responded to 28 calls in Arroyo City, Perez said without issue.
Whelan said he wants the issue resolved to give the residents he serves the best chance of survival.
“Unfortunately, if the service does not get activated there will be more fatalities with the age group of our community. The residents need to be ensured that when they call 911, an ambulance or a first responder or a fire is dispatched instantly for their protection and their safety,” he said.
Whelan isn’t saying the delay in dispatch is what ultimately led to the man’s death, but he said with Arroyo City being so far away, minutes can’t be lost.
Although Arroyo City has about 13 volunteer firefighters that live in the city, not all are trained as emergency responders.
Whelan said some of the volunteers have basic life support training, but they are currently coordinating with STEC to setup training to certify all the volunteers in the department to respond to future emergencies.
“We’re just not certified by the state. We don’t have the full credentials to get the state certification, but we still respond to all emergencies,” he said.
The Arroyo City Fire volunteers are also dispatched through the 911 system.
They started life-saving services when they can, since it can take up to a half hour before a STEC ambulance can arrive in Arroyo City.
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