A month has passed since the devastating winter storm in February, but the experience will stay with Hamilton County Hospital District EMS leaders and crews.
Patrick Cobb, director of EMS and Emergency Management for the Hamilton County Hospital District, which serves Llano County, said he’s never had to “manage delivery of EMS in conditions” like what hit Texas that week — and he started his EMS career in 1988 with the U.S. military.
“This particular event was unique in the fact there was no help to call in,” he said. “We had no ability to call for mutual aid because they couldn’t come help us.”
Icy road conditions challenged responders and grounded medical helicopters.
“I would have to say it wasn’t the ice or snow that concerned me the most; I know those are going to go away,” he added. “What bothered me was the lack of electricity. We didn’t have power either. All the basic necessities of humanity were stripped. No matter what your personal income is, it affected everyone the same.”
In February, Hamilton County Hospital District EMS answered 362 total calls for service, 164 of which came from Kingsland. In January, crews responded to 262 calls, 109 in Kingsland.
Cobb said some of the calls during the storm were from people needing medications refilled, who had no electricity or running water, and who were forced to leave to find a place to get warm, eat, or receive oxygen.
Though they respond to emergencies every day, paramedics and EMTs are not immune to the terrible situations people faced during the storm, Cobb said.
“When you see the basic necessities required to sustain life are removed, I can’t tell you how bad it makes you feel as a first responder,” he said. “When someone calls and you walk into their home and it’s as cold outside as it is inside, at that point, we’re taking you out, either to a hospital or a warming center or some place with a generator.”
Along with transporting patients to Highland Lakes facilities, crews made trips to Austin-area medical centers. And if a person needed medication refills and couldn’t get them, EMS staff called pharmacies or a family member to see if they could help. If that failed, crews brought the person to a nearby hospital for the medication. Llano County Volunteer Fire Department assisted with getting oxygen to those in need.
Among these calls, crews responded to serious injuries, including a women who slipped on ice near her mailbox. EMS found her unconscious.
“Her body was cold enough to be considered hypothermic,” Cobb said.
First responders also aided a family suffering carbon monoxide poisoning after using a barbecue pit for heat inside their home. They helped another person during an asthma attack who also had COVID-19.
Cobb has nothing from his long career that compares with the events of that week.
“It was truly, from my personal opinion, biblical,” he said. “In talking with my staff in their 20s and 30s, they don’t have a weather event to compare this to. The last time we had an event that affected the entire state at the same time was Hurricane Ike in 2008. Even a hurricane is targeted to what it affects.”