Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 9, 2013

Jacksonville Firefighters: AMBUS unit can save lives

Ben Tinsley
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — A handful of Jacksonville firefighters were trained Wednesday in the workings of Palestine Regional Medical Center's AMBUS – a 41-foot ambulance bus designed to handle well over 10 patients in mass casualty situations.

The AMBUS is licensed as a specialty emergency medical services vehicle. It can be used to care for the sick and injured and transport patients across a variety of incidents threatening health and safety. There are only thirteen such vehicles assigned to the State of Texas.

Most recently, this particular AMBUS was summoned to West on April 17 in response to an explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility.

During this disaster, 15 people were killed and more than 160 others were injured. The cause of that fire is currently undetermined.

Mark Neel, Palestine Regional Medical Center ambulance crew chief, said Wednesday he is hoping to use added manpower from departments such as Jacksonville's to build teams of first responders who can be deployed to emergency situations in the AMBUS.

Neel, incidentally, spent the night on the scene of the West explosion along with other crew members.

“We're building strike teams,” Neel explained. “We want to be able to call here, pick up these folks and go.”

Without any equipment or supplies, the Ambus is valued at $480,000, Neel said. Fully stocked and supplied it is valued at $700,000, he said.

Alicia Whetsell, a Jacksonville firefighter and paramedic, is helping coordinate this training and deployment effort.

She said as many as 14 patients at a time can be cared for in the versatile AMBUS.

The AMBUS is part of Region 4 of the Emergency Medical Task Force, which was set up by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

The object of the task force is to create a network of regionally based medical teams to provide a well coordinated response – and offer rapid professional medical assistance – to emergency operation systems during disasters such as West.

“This  area is part of the task force,” Whetsell explained.

Neel said the need for this high-level a medical vehicle became evident after hurricane damage in recent years.

“This started after Katrina,” Neel said. “There are about 100 of these (AMBUSES) in the country. They build between 12 and 15 of them a year.”