Austin-Travis County EMS downtown post allows rapid response at SXSW


AUSTIN (KXAN) — With thousands of people flooding downtown this weekend for South By Southwest, Austin-Travis County EMS say their personnel is prepared to respond directly from downtown Austin. 

“It brings an increased demand for 911 in the downtown footprint, and with all the crowds and traffic congestion it makes it difficult to drive a traditional ambulance,” Capt. Darren Noak with ATCEMS said.

In 2018, they helped 142 people during the festival — treating 86 on site and sending 38 to the hospital. Navigating traffic during SXSW can be challenging and first responders face the same issues. 

“It’s basically a city within a city, it has its own command structure, it has its own communication structure, it has basically its own ambulance system,” Noak said. 

ATCEMS kicked off its downtown operations in 2014 at the corner of Fifth Street and Congress Avenue covering calls in Sixth Street downtown from Interstate 35 west to Congress Ave. They also cover Fifth St., Seventh Street and Rainey Street.

From their downtown command post, they’re able to dispatch personnel who can treat everything from dehydration to critical incidents.

“You name it we see it,” he said. 

In 2014, the first year they moved operations downtown, Rashad Owens drove his car into a South By crowd, killing four. Capt. Noak said being downtown allowed them to respond a lot quicker.

“We just continue to prepare for those and hope of course that those incidents don’t happen but we are certainly prepared for the worst.”

This year, scooters are an added obstacle to the mix. Since ATCEMS kicked off operations on Tuesday afternoon, they’ve responded to three scooter incidents — two on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. It may not sound like a lot, but that’s because the city banned scooters from certain parts of Sixth St. and Rainey St., which are within the jurisdiction of the downtown units. 

In a tweet by ATCEMS on Friday, officials released numbers from Thursday evening’s operation and say the number of incidents involving scooters has increased to five total. 

Here’s the breakdown: 

Day 1 — Tuesday: Medics responded to 23 incidents, involving 18 patients, resulting in 8 patient transports. 

Day 2 — Wednesday: Medics responded to 28 incidents, involving 14 patients, resulting in 4 patient transports.

Day 3 — Thursday: Medics responded to 23 incidents, involving 18 patients, resulting in 8 patient transports.

Officials with Seton hospitals say last weekend, they had two major injuries related to scooters, and they are seeing a lot more people coming in for other minor scooter injuries.

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