Photo: City of Lufkin Facebook Page

COUNTYWIDE EMS: Today the City of Lufkin notified Angelina County and its municipalities that it will recommend that the county assume responsibility for emergency medical services outside city limits beginning in January 2022.The City of Lufkin Fire Department currently services all EMS calls in Angelina County. It takes paramedics 30 minutes to reach Zavalla from the closest fire station in Lufkin. In a cardiac arrest, 30 minutes is six times the required response window of five minutes for resuscitation, according to Lufkin Fire Chief Jesse Moody.

“In my 27-year career, I’ve never seen a cardiac arrest successfully resuscitated in Zavalla or anywhere south of Huntington,” Moody said. “Those calls are survivable if Angelina County had an ambulance service with stations strategically placed throughout the county.”

It can take paramedics 45-50 minutes to reach the county’s outermost edges. Those longer response times and a financial deficit for EMS services are the primary reasons for the city’s recommendation, Lufkin City Manager Bruce Green said. “Growing deficits are a reality, but they are not our first concern,” Green said. “Our paramedics and emergency medical technicians provide excellent care once they arrive on a scene, but, due solely to the distance, it is not infrequent that one of our ambulances arrives on a scene where a patient should already have been at a hospital.”

If Angelina County opted to contract with a private ambulance service with locations throughout the county, it would benefit residents not only in cardiac arrests but also in trauma calls. On trauma calls, the standard of care is the “Golden Hour,” meaning a patient has one hour to get definitive medical care before suffering a severe outcome.

“In the case of a bad wreck in Zavalla, the ‘Golden Hour’ is taken up in response time alone. That means before we even figure in extricating and stabilizing someone for transport, their hour is up,” Moody said. “Whereas if the county had an ambulance and extrication team down there, the person is going to have a much better outcome.”

Another issue facing city officials is adequate coverage for the residents who live inside city limits. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that a city the size of Lufkin (roughly 40k citizens) have a 21-person staffing minimum.

Lufkin Fire Department currently operates with a minimum of 19 people to serve the city and the county – roughly 100,000 residents, Moody said. “The county has grown to such a size that with the manpower we have, we are not able to provide coverage for the county and the city at the same time without greatly increasing the number of personnel in the department,” Moody said.

When the fire department responds to the south end of the county for EMS, it can take two and a half hours before they are available for another call, Moody said. That extended “door-to-door” time frequently creates situations where there is not enough manpower to safely respond to structure fires inside city limits.

“For that two and a half hours, the engine at that fire station has no firefighters,” Moody said. “The people on the ambulance are the firefighters on the engine. We have no reserve force.”

Another viable option for the county would be to eventually establish an emergency services district as nearly 100 counties across the state have already done including Sabine, Houston, Rusk, Jasper, Tyler and Smith counties. The recommendation will be brought before Lufkin City Council on Aug. 3. Green said he wanted to give Angelina County and its municipalities advanced notice to allow them time to establish a plan.

“By providing advanced notice, the county will have plenty of time to arrange emergency medical services through a private company, or to establish an Emergency Services District to provide services throughout the county,” Green said.

The City will work with Angelina County to ensure a smooth transition.