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December 11, 2010

Texas EMS agency focuses on emergency training

By Kimbery Pina
The Houston Chronicle

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — After more than 30 years of serving the Katy area as a first responder to emergencies, West Harris County EMS has changed focus to offer education and training.

The nonprofit entity re-established itself this year as the West Harris County EMS Training Academy to provide classes for paramedics, emergency medical technicians and firefighters.

The group also offers free first aid and cardiovascular pulmonary resuscitation classes to the community.

"We're getting very, very positive feedback from the community and word is getting out," said Marc Albea, president of West Harris County EMS. "We've very pleased and excited with how things have come together."

Previously, West Harris County EMS had partnered with West I-10 Fire Department to provide ambulance services through a contract with Harris County Emergency Service District No. 48.

But unresolved disagreements over West Harris County EMS' ambulance staffing and financial accountability prevented the emergency service district from renewing its annual contract with West Harris County EMS.

Both the fire department and EMS provider had worked closely together for 29 years.

Instead, the emergency services district approved for West I-10 to take on the responsibility of providing emergency medical services in January in addition to the department's fire suppression duties.

West Harris County EMS considered its next course of action.

"We looked at what we could do and decided based on our experience that one of the best things we could do is to teach other EMS providers," Albea said.

With a core group of about 20 volunteers and five paid staff members, West Harris County EMS created a business plan to allow the group to offer training.

Albea said his team sold four of West Harris County's five ambulances and kept one.

The group also sold the responder vehicles. The money helped pay for office space set up as training facility at 21732 Provincial Blvd. in the Katy area.

"We've invested up to $300,000 to build this new focus on education and renovated office space that we turned into a new state-of-the-art training facility," said Albea, adding that the group is receiving revenue from outstanding patient medical bills being paid to the organization.

Day and night classes are offered daily at the training facility and include free community classes such as babysitting safety courses for local residents, American Heart Association classes such as CPR and professional emergency medical technician courses.

The classes are planned for 10-12 people and are open to high school students and adults.

Hans Grider, who previously worked as a paramedic with West Harris County EMS, is the new academy director overseeing the class scheduling and client contracts.

Attendance at the classes started off slow, Grider said, but has picked up in the last few months.

"Word is getting out and our classes have grown a lot," said Grider, who is also an instructor at the academy.

"We have a flexibility of schedules that other places don't have, and we've got years of experience under our belt even though the academy is brand new."

Participants pay a fee for the EMT courses, and payment plans are available. While classes are continuously offered at the training facility, West Harris County EMS instructors also will travel to other locations to provide the courses.

West Harris County EMS plans to attend career fairs at local high schools and other events to offer information about the training academy. Scholarships have also been awarded to students and adults interested in pursuing a career as a paramedic or EMT.

Volunteers are also needed to assist with classes and the organization's community outreach program.

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For additional information about the academy, or to sign up for classes, visit the organization's website at www.whcems.org or call 281-492-1161.


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