After paramedics may have unknowingly tipped off the Austin bomber about authorities’ interest in him,  Austin-Travis County EMS says it is reinforcing its policies to prevent similar issues in the future.

Less than 12 hours before a SWAT team approached Mark Conditt and he blew himself up, paramedics from the Pflugerville Fire Department went to his home. Around 4:01 p.m. on March 20, they received a call for an “unknown medical assist,” at 403 N. Second Street in Pflugerville and knocked on the door.

“The person who answered the door replied that no one had called, and that was affirmed by an unseen person elsewhere in the interior of the house,” a PFD release stated.

The Pflugerville Fire Department wasn’t involved in the bombings investigation, and unbeknownst to them, that call was meant to “basically play lookout,” according to EMS Commander Mike Benavides. That’s something that’s not normal in a typical call, he said, and EMS has never been called on standby like that before. 

According to EMS’ policies, an agency will page the EMS special operations commander with this kind of request. Because there were so many agencies involved and EMS was receiving commands from different agency leads, it led to confusion. The “unknown medical assist” was treated more like a typical call, and routed to PFD, which had a station nearby.

Now, EMS is reinforcing policies it’s had for 18 years to streamline its internal communications and avoid a similar mishap, Benavides said. That includes entering a law enforcement request into dispatch records after verifying with police how they want medics to handle the call. They also won’t put the address of a suspect or raid in dispatch records until after an operation begins, and they will use a special call category so requests aren’t routed to agencies outside ATCEMS.

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