AUSTIN (KXAN) — A new pilot program on local lakes aims to reduce response time and get people help where they need it. Austin-Travis County EMS will join Austin Police Department patrol boats this summer on Lady Bird Lake and Lake Austin.
“We know that time is imperative. We only have 20 minutes to get to (a person in trouble),” said Brad Lines, a rescue training captain with ATCEMS.
Normally, ATCEMS has boats stationed around the city. When an emergency is called in, those boats have to be deployed, then reach the area where a swimmer or boater is in trouble and then helm them.
“APD (has) boats on the water. They have some boats on Lake Austin, Lady Bird Lake and they also cover a Decker Lake as well. Anytime they’re on the water, if we have a paramedic on those boats with them, we’d be able to have the full medical coverage and capability to respond.”
The importance of response time on the water
According to Lines, after 20 minutes, the team goes from rescue to recovery mode.
“That’s based on the protocols we have that studies have shown that after 20 minutes being submerged that the survivability is very low. So in rescue mode, our goal is to get to the person, get them out of the water and begin treatment or assess station in less than 20 minutes.”
The new program isn’t just about reducing response times, but also finding a victim.
“If we get one rescuer there right away — we’re able to kind of pinpoint and find the area — we’re most likely to find the patient. So getting one or two there right away. And then as more come in, we can supplement them to kind of widen our search area.”
The program has been operating a little more than a month and Lines said it’s already seeing some success.
“They’ve already responded to people in boats that needed assistance. I don’t think we’ve had any drowning victims, but they’ve responded to boaters that need assistance, people that need medical assistance at and near the water’s edge,” Lines said.
Tracking the program and seeing it grow
According to Lines, ATCEMS will determine if the program is successful by tracking the number of lives saved.
“We’ve had boaters who are are in distress, we’ve had people who just live near the lake on these houses that overlook the lake who call 911. Having a paramedic who’s able to get there via the lake as opposed to driving a long ways in an ambulance, they’re able to get on scene, treat the patient and free up resources.”
Lines believes the program could be expanded to surrounding lakes, including Lake Travis.
Lake Travis has seen more than three times as many boating and swimming fatalities as Lake Austin between 2010 and 2022, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“Lake Travis is a huge lake. There’s a lot more boater traffic. So it would be really beneficial to the public to have rescue and medical capabilities on the lake,” Lines said.
“The Wake: Secrets of Lake Travis” premieres Monday, May 29th on KXAN.com. You can watch it on KXAN at 4:30pm and The CW Austin at 7:00am and 9:30pm.