COTULLA, Texas— A Texas town once at the center of the Eagle Ford shale boom is proving falling oil prices can’t hinder growth or progress.
On Monday, March 14, Cotulla – La Salle’s county seat - unveils its new fire station and state-of-the-art firefighting equipment.
The grand opening takes place at 4 p.m., although the public is welcome to visit the new fire station, 951 Dobie Rd., any time between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m.
Texas State Senator Sen. Judith Zaffirini is expected to speak at the grand opening.
Staffing the new La Salle County Fire Rescue station are trained and certified firefighter EMTs/paramedics who can beat the national average response time of 9.4 minutes with an achieved average of 5 minutes – all in a 1,500-square-mile county dotted with scrub brush.
The La Salle County Fire Rescue project was approved and supported by La Salle County Commissioners Court.
“Strong fire service is important for the safety of our community now, and an important piece to attract business for our future economic growth and sustainability,” says LaSalle County Judge Joel Rodriguez.
Lives already have been saved with La Salle County Fire Rescue’s new capabilities and equipment, he says.
Texas-based Soteria Solutions, the nation’s leading authority on emergency response planning for county and city governments, worked closely with La Salle County Commissioners on the project.
Donations from oil-and-gas industry partners BHP, NuStar, Chesapeake, Talisman (now Repsol), EP, Pioneer and High Roller helped provide much-needed safety equipment for firefighters.
In addition to La Salle County Fire Rescue’s firefighter EMTs/paramedics in Cotulla, nearby Encinal is also staffed with two firefighter EMTs/paramedics who are supported by volunteer firefighters. Response times there have plummeted from 27 minutes to four minutes.
Construction on a second fire station in Encinal begins this spring.
La Salle receives an average of 1,500 calls per year. Cotulla is responsible for roughly 65 percent of all calls.
As part of this project, La Salle County Fire Rescue now provides complete emergency medical services including Lifepack 15 for identifying cardiac problems and sustained CPR capabilities via a Lucas Device.
The equipment’s Auto Pulse allows rescue personnel to perform lifesaving CPR for much longer times – critical in a county that still lacks a hospital.
By beefing up its fire and EMS to include professionally certified firefighters, new fire trucks and advanced improvements in fire, rescue and EMS training, La Salle County’s ISO ratings fell from 8-9 to 5-8B.
Lowering ISO ratings brings great savings on costs of homeowner and commercial insurance rates, which rely on ISO for guidance.
The rest of Texas is closely watching these developments in La Salle County.
“Bringing fire service training to communities like La Salle County for the safety of the citizens and the firefighters is key to building skilled and prepared emergency response. Soteria Solutions has given much-needed guidance for the implementation of the SFFMA training and development for these firefighters. Firefighters are the backbone of emergency response in many small Texas communities like Cotulla and Encinal,” says Chris Barron, executive director of the State Firefighters’ & Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas and fire chief of Manchaca Fire Department.
“Citizens should expect their professionalism and level of training to be on par with that of fulltime firefighters. La Salle County and Soteria Solutions are to be commended for bringing this new level of professionalism to everyone on their firefighting staff.”
Emergency response planning is not new to the state, which is dotted with potentially hazardous energy infrastructure in cities and in rural communities like La Salle County.
However, an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2013 noted the most effective emergency planning occurs at the local level.
Michelle Joseph, principal of Soteria Solutions, says rapid growth throughout the state underscores the dramatic need for rural Texas to upgrade fire and EMS capabilities.
Many Texas counties lack the training and resources needed to comply with federally mandated emergency planning.
“In many ways, La Salle County is a test case for the rest of the state,” she says. “They needed to upgrade and restructure their Fire and EMS to meet response demands and compliance guidelines. This is something all of our clients take very seriously in the aftermath of the West chemical explosion, which decimated that small town.”
Soteria also helps local governments create and manage local emergency planning committees (LEPCs) required by federal law.
LEPCs are planning entities that generally cannot commit manpower or resources. They provide a forum for discussions and action in matters pertaining to hazardous materials planning, and are the designated entities for public information in the event of a significant chemical release or other disaster.
LaSalle County Judge Rodriguez and County Commissioners Abel Gonzalez, Pct. 1, Joaquin Alba, Pct. 2, Rene Benavidez, Pct. 3, and Raul Ayala, Pct. 4 contracted with Soteria for the project. Soteria also employs former Travis County fire chief Don Smith.
Rodriguez recalls their challenge: “I went on the scene with a trooper and managed to get a door pried open of a rolled-over semi. The volunteers arrived moments later and assisted EMS for the removal of the injured person.
“The two volunteer firemen’s eyes showed incredible fatigue because they had been responding for several days straight and at the same time holding down fulltime jobs.
“Our ambulance service was not growing as we expected. The confidence in the level of EMS care was low.”
Joseph says Soteria Solutions reviewed budget allocations, ISO ratings, mapped out strategies for reducing response times, and mapped out timelines that planned each step sequentially.
Under Chief Smith’s leadership, La Salle firefighters and EMS trained with State Firefighters’ & Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas (SFFMA), Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX), Nix Hospital, local air services, and other first-responder organizations.
“We brought in Soteria to help us advance our fire service, EMS care, and to improve our ISO rating to reduce property insurance rates,” Rodriguez says. “We are now realizing the rewards of these efforts.”
RELATED LINKS: www.co.la-salle.tx.us
ABOUT SOTERIA SOLUTIONS: Texas-based Soteria Solutions LLC is the nation’s leading authority on emergency response planning for county and city governments. We connect elected officials with the stakeholder communities they serve by providing expertise and resources needed for comprehensive emergency planning now required by federal law. For more information, visit soteriasolutions.com.
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