Washington County EMS: the Best

Bill Neinast


Limiting Emergency Medical Services Week to one week in Washington County is too restrictive.  Here’s why.

Until recently, ambulance service was provided by funeral homes.  If there was an accident or someone could not be taken to the hospital in the family vehicle, a local funeral home would dispatch a hearse or two to haul the victims to a nearby hospital.  The victims were generally on their own during the ride.

In 1975, Brenham established an emergency medical service with a regular ambulance and a small crew of trained medics.  This service was primarily for residents of Brenham and was located in the northern part of the city.

Washington County officials took notice of the superior service available from the Brenham EMS compared to the funeral service hearses and soon agreed to assume responsibility for the service and make it countywide.

As statistics began to be accumulated and analyzed, it became apparent that most of the calls for assistance were from the southern area of the city.  Concern over the response time from the station’s location prompted a search for another location.

The late Mike Hopkins learned of  the search and donated several acres of land on the US 290/SH 36 loop.  This generosity led to a new, larger station with ample space for ambulances and personnel.

Then concern shifted to the response time on calls from the far reaches of the county.  This led to a cooperative agreement with the city of Burton to establish a station there.  

Once the station with 24/7 staffing was established in Burton, a similar arrangement with Chappell Hill’s Chamber of Commerce and Historical Society resulted in an EMS station in that community. 

The building for such a station in Old Washington is already under construction.  Once completed, there will be five EMS staffed locations in the county.  Accordingly, the response time for the arrival of EMS personnel and equipment will be rapid all over the county. 

The 40 men and women staffing the stations do not just sit around and wait for a 911 dispatch.  Under Director Kevin Deramus, they are establishing life saving practices that were considered impossible or impractical until they showed the way.  

A number of those innovations are still looked at with awe and envy by other EMS organizations, and some like Houston and Harris County are beginning to copy Washington County,

For example, Washington County EMS now has blood immediately available when needed.  

What’s so special about that?  Blood has a shelf life of four weeks and must be kept at a specific temperature.  For those reasons, keeping blood on EMS facilities was considered impossible.  

Washington County, however, said, “Blood is needed often in emergency runs, so we are going to have it available.”  The necessary refrigeration system was established with appropriate monitoring and a procedure for rotating the blood supply with the blood bank every two weeks was started.  

Now blood is available immediately when needed.

Another serious condition that benefits from prompt treatment while in EMS care is sepsis, an internal infection that can result in death if not diagnosed and treated promptly.  The minutes between diagnosis and treatment are crucial.

Once again, Washington County recognized the need and took the lead.  The paramedics now have special training for recognizing possible sepsis infection and how to take a required blood sample and begin treatment if indicated.  As before, other EMS organizations have taken note and are following suit.

Director Deramus then noticed there were a number of “frequent flyers”—individuals calling 911 three or more times a year with minor problems that did not require hospitalization.  Nonetheless, each call had to be answered with a fully staffed and equipped ambulance.

To avoid those costly calls, a paramedic in a vehicle with minimal support equipment now visits the frequent flyers on a routine basis.

The Washington County EMS is also more than mobile Intensive Care Units (ICUs) with flashing lights and sirens. It is one of the few, if not the only, small community EMS with a swift water rescue team.  The team has been on 180 rescue missions since 2008. 

During the flood of the century last year, this team responded to 56 calls for help, rescued 51 individuals, and recovered four bodies in the county. It also helped even more outside the county as part of the Texas Task Force.

That large rope climbing tower outside the EMS station on the highway loop is not for practicing scaling walls or mountains.  Handling and tying ropes is an essential skill for water rescues.  The tower was built for use in the required annual training for such skills and is now being used by others for that training.

Our local EMS also has a Mobile Medical Unit (MMU).  This is a tent of the type seen in the old M*A*S*H TV series.  The MMU is completely deployable and self sufficient with generator lighting and HVAC.  It can support a field hospital, command post, and many other disaster support operations.

These leading innovations are being recognized both statewide and nationwide.  Next month, Director Deramus will make a presentation in California to the National Association of Regional Councils on how our EMS is providing such wide ranging support to the county.

The 2016 budget for providing all of this outstanding support 24/7 was just over 3.5 million dollars.  Nearly all of those dollars came from insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid reimbursements; federal and state programs, and donations.  The county taxpayers’ share was only $370,442, a bit more than 10% of the total.

So here’s the perspective.

We have come a long way from funeral hearses serving as ambulances to the fully equipped and staffed mobile intensive care units (ICUs) described above. 

Those mobile ICUs will be at your door within minutes of a 911 call in Washington County.  They are maintained and staffed 24/7 by 40 men and women.

Recognizing and honoring those unsung heroes for just a week is not enough.  Let’s observe them by adopting a practice regarding military service personnel.  When you see a man or woman in a black EMS uniform, greet them with, “Thank you for your service.”

They deserve it.


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