AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services is requesting more than $1 million in active attacker training and upgraded ballistic vests as a direct result of June’s mass shooting on Sixth Street. The one-time cost proposals came as part of Austin City Council’s budget work session Tuesday.
ATCEMS Interim Chief Jasper Brown outlined several funding requests as part of the work session, including bringing on 40 additional positions to “standardize staff levels at all stations.” ATCEMS currently has 115 vacancies within the department, out of an authorized staff size of more than 600.
Additional funding requests
Under current department protocols, 12 full-time employees are needed to staff new stations brought online within the department. The practice is a new one for the department, Brown said, with previous protocols budgeting for eight full-time employees per station.
As a result, Brown outlined a potential phased in approach for all stations to hit the 12 FTE threshold over a few years’ time. The costs for 40 additional personnel, Brown said, amount to approximately $3.2 million.
Additional funding requests noted by ATCEMS include hiring three division chiefs and two communication commanders to the department, for a combined cost of $759,000. An additional leadership change mentioned would be using existing budget resources to hire an assistant chief for the department, using funds allocated to two open command positions.
ATCEMS also requested $232,000 for a commander and clinical specialist as part of ATCEMS’ community relations and injury prevention programs. Features include CPR training, safety presentations, car seat safety checks and senior home safety programs.
“When we really want to make a change in the community, we really have to invest in the community,” Brown said.
Initial draft documents from the city of Austin reflect a proposed $14.3 million operating budget for FY22, while the department operates off a $15.6 million budget in the current FY21.
Council Member Alison Alter vocalized her support for additional EMS staffing funds but proposed a multi-year phased in approach, with specific prioritization placed on fulfilling requests for additional division chiefs and communication commanders. She said the city can also hire more paramedic practitioners to help assist ATCEMS and reduce overtime burdens on current personnel, who are working more overtime shifts due to staffing shortages.
Council Member Paige Ellis said it’s important to balance finances with current training needs, adding she doesn’t want to overcommit finances to the department for positions that can’t yet be filled.
“I really think that phasing it in over time would be a responsible way to accomplish that goal,” Ellis said.
Downtown EMS staffing
Following June’s Sixth Street mass shooting, the Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services Association revived calls for a stronger EMS presence in downtown Austin. Association President Selena Xie told KXAN in June the specialized units feature an estimated price tag of $800,000, which would include a rescue task force available for emergency assistance.
Brown said the biggest challenge with the downtown EMS staff increase outlined by the Association is the timeframe of hiring new cadets. He told city leaders during Tuesday’s budget hearing that, even if the department receives additional funding for those hires, it still takes an extended period of time to properly vet, hire and train new personnel.
“We are putting units downtown Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. we’re doing that at overtime,” he said in an interview with KXAN Tuesday. “My comment was if council, even if they gave me the positions and funding come October 1, I will have to hire into…we’re going to continue to fund it with overtime.”
Brown told Austin City Council Tuesday the department brought in a 12-hour unit stationed at its headquarters, located at 15 Waller St. He said the department will move back into headquarters and be available for 24-hour use in September, following completion of ongoing renovations.
ATCEMS partnered with Austin Police Department on staffing a rescue task force vehicle on weekend nights through October to help coordinate emergency transports and be on-site in case of an emergency. Right now, the rescue task force is being funded through overtime, he said.
The active attacker training program would cover all FTEs and has a projected cost of $402,000, while upgraded ballistic vests have a sticker price of $802,000. Currently, all personnel wear level two ballistic vests; the upgraded level three vests offer rifle-type ammunition protection.
Council Member Kathie Tovo said council should prioritize active attacker training and ballistic vests funding. She also supported adding smaller scale emergency vehicles to navigate crowded downtown streets and transport patients back to ambulances.
Austin City Council is expected to approve and adopt its FY22 budget Aug. 13.