AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) plans to begin a pilot program this summer that will place medics in charge of the Rainey Street Historic District.

This is in response to, in part, certain concerns about deaths in Lady Bird Lake.

“Considerations for the pilot include staffing during peak periods of pedestrian traffic and using Special Response Units (SRUs) to facilitate access to patients,” the memo reads.

Starting June 2, EMS will staff two medics in a special response unit – which is similar to an ATV – at the end of Rainey Street near the water on Friday and Saturday nights from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m.

“Instead of having a 6 or 8 min ambulance response, we can have paramedic there within a minute,” said Assistant Chief Michael Wright with ATCEMS. He said the agency received more than 400 calls for medical service from Rainey Street last year, and that number is on the rise.

During the course of the pilot period, EMS will collect data and determine the best response for a long-term plan in the area, which could include additional staff as well as extended hours.

We asked Wright how he thinks the staging will help prevent drownings.

“We have people on site, we have people there who will be heads on a swivel. We’re looking for people who we can maybe divert or even intervene with,” he said.

He said this kind of response ties into EMS’ mission to serve the community beyond just providing ambulance service.

“We are the point of entry for so many people into healthcare and we’re achieving that level of sophistication where it’s not just the ambulance ride,” Wright said. “It’s protecting people with those right resources to get the right help. And this is just an example of that.”

Prior Rainey Street safety measures

The City of Austin upped safety measures on the Rainey Street Trailhead and Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail last month, following calls for improvement by family members of people who died or were injured in the area.

According to city officials, there have been five late night/overnight drownings near Rainey Street since 2014, including the deaths of Jason John and Jonathan Honey. A press release from the city states the medical examiner performed autopsies in each case, and the previous three were ruled accidental – with none of the autopsies revealing any trauma or indicating any foul play.

Police said foul play is currently not expected in John’s or Honey’s cases, but Council Member Zo Qadri said more can be done to improve safety in the area.

On March 10, the Parks and Recreation Department finished installing four sets of solar-power lights and a fence on the Hike and Bike Trail near Rainey Street.

“A permanent infrastructure plan for the Rainey Street trailhead area is already in the works, with construction expected to begin this year. The plan includes consideration for hard-wired lighting, cameras, fencing, signage and safety beacon installation,” the city said.

Last month, the city added increased police patrols on Rainey street, as well as additional park rangers stationed along the trail; and the Austin City Council passed a resolution drafted by Qadri aimed at creating a pedestrian safety plan for the Rainey Street Historic District.

Interim City Manager Jesus Garza said in addition to lighting, fencing and additional patrols – he’s also looking into adding more HALO cameras throughout the area. An update on the cameras is expected on June 13. He also plans to work with the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission to help “additional strategies for curbing overserving alcohol.”