In a summer of record-high temperatures, things just kept getting hotter for Maverick County and its firefighters.
Maverick County, on the Texas-Mexico border west of San Antonio, has a population about the same as San Marcos spread over an area about the size of Rhode Island. The Eagle Pass Fire Department is the only professional fire company and emergency medical service provider in the county.
For several months, with the help of a state grant initially intended for equipment purchases but partially redirected to overtime, the department was able to keep 21 to 24 firefighter EMTs on duty per shift. With the grant ending in August, however, those numbers were due to fall to 15 to 17— to cover three stations and operate three fire trucks and five ambulances.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends four firefighters per fire truck, and ambulances need at a minimum one driver and one medic. About 85 percent of the 10,000 or so calls the department responds to each year are for medical care.
With the reduced staffing, “it was hectic because there were multiple calls and you’re getting slammed on the EMS side,” Fire Department Captain Manuel Roman told the Texas Observer. “You always ran the risk that if a fire broke out you wouldn’t have enough personnel to respond.”
The Eagle Pass city budget includes money to hire six additional firefighters in the fall, but they won’t be fully certified in both firefighting and emergency medical services for a year.
Assistant Fire Chief Rodolfo Cardona said he’s confident that a new state grant will help fill the personnel gap. He said he’s been told the new grant will likely come through Operation Lone Star, Governor Greg Abbott’s controversial border security initiative.
“Oh man, when that grant ends, and if it’s not renewed, I think we’ll feel even more of a strain,” firefighter EMT William Dorsey said in August. “Not only are we running our typical number of calls tending to the city, [but] we have the additional calls from [the Texas Department of Public Safety] and Border Patrol.”