Emergency responders: More space needed
By RANDY GONZALES
Big trucks and small buildings are not a good combination.
That's why construction of a new EMS/rural fire building is part of a proposed 0.5-percent county sales tax. It also would pay for expansion and renovation to the county jail, Law Enforcement Center and courthouse.
The EMS/rural fire building would cost approximately $3.8 million, while the courthouse and jail is estimated at $8.5 million. With interest, total cost of the project is estimated at $14.3 million.
The sales tax is on the ballot in a May 14 special election. The tax would sunset after five years or when the project is paid off, whichever comes first.
Ellis County Emergency Medical Services Director Kerry McCue said his department has outgrown the building at 1009 Cody. The ambulance station has been at its present location since 1990.
"We're in an inadequate facility for what we're doing," said McCue, who has been EMS director since 1990. "We've made it work for a number of years, but it's just gotten to the point demand for our services have outgrown this building."
In 1990, there were nine full-time employees with four vehicles, and call volume was approximately 1,700 per year. Now, there are 41 employees (27 full-time), with seven ambulances (four in Hays, one each in Victoria and Ellis, and one in storage), with call volume at 3,500 per year.
"Our demand for services has doubled," McCue said. "We need more space to meet those demands. We're out of space."
Routinely, vehicles are juggled for maintenance and to wash them. The trucks are packed in tight; opening cabinets to reach supplies is not possible without moving vehicles.
"It's hard to keep things in here where we can use them without damage to the equipment, and even get the equipment out to use in the station," said Mark Bunner, an EMS responder for 18 years.
"Over the years, through technology and everything, we've had to add more and more equipment, and the trucks we get are larger every year," Bunner said. "We're just out of room."
Ellis County Rural Fire Director Dick Klaus said it's more of the same in his department's building at 1208 Cedar. The building, which the department has used for at least the last 18 years, houses five vehicles in a tight space. A training area consists of a folding table. The firefighters' gear is along one wall; Klaus said he could use more space for gear, but there isn't room. Presently, there are 16 sets of bunker gear for the department's 90 to 100 volunteers.
Instead of each truck having a separate door to respond to a fire, they are instead stacked one behind the other. If the lead truck won't start, response time will be slowed.
"It has happened," said Klaus, who has been the rural fire director for more than two decades. "We can't change them around; there's no way we could do it because of the size of the trucks."
The new building would have eight bays, plus a training room. There would be room to store added bunker gear.
Another problem with both current buildings is exposure to diesel fumes.
"When you start these diesel trucks up, they're getting exposed to the fumes," Klaus said.
The Hays rural fire station, Company 5, is centrally located in the county.
"It makes the most runs, because it's used to assist other departments," Klaus said.
There are eight departments in the county.
Both McCue and Klaus said their departments are committed to serving Ellis County. To better serve the public, added space is a need, not a want, they said.
"They're going to continue to do what they have to do to serve the public," McCue said. "But we really need to take care of the people serving us, and they're taking care of us."