UPDATE: Tuesday a man from Merryville hydroplaned and flipped his vehicle in front of the veterinary office South of town. The man sustained non-life-threatening injuries and required medical attention. Kirbyville First Responders treated the man on scene and agreed that he needed to go to Jasper Memorial to be further assessed. When the call went out for an ambulance, the first responders were informed that an ambulance was not available to assist.
Dan Gillespie Chief Operating Officer with Allegiance EMS said, “There are a total of six ambulances dedicated to Jasper and Jasper County. We have one in Buna and five in Jasper. Of those five, 2 are dedicated to Jasper County. Per the contract signed by (Emergency Services District) ESD4, Allegiance and the Hospital District, three of them are required to remain within the City of Jasper for the use of Jasper Memorial Hospital and 911 calls for Jasper, and ESD4. If there were two trucks available, it was because they aren’t allowed to leave that area without breaching the contract.”
Gillespie said that one of the biggest problems with utilizing more ambulances is staffing. “We can put another truck in the county, but finding staff is another matter. Patient volume is another issue. The City of Jasper and the ESD4 don’t pay because there is enough volume to sustain the trucks and staff.”
Gillespie continued; “Kirbyville had the option to join but opted not to. Our contract began in July of 2022. Each individual area is responsible for their services. When the contract came out, ESD4 and Jasper Memorial Hospital District each were responsible for City services. Justin has in the last year pulled 8 trucks from the surrounding areas on 30 calls to assist when trucks were tied up here.”
When it was mentioned that some of our citizens are a bit concerned that they won’t have services should they be needed, Gillespie said, “They shouldn’t be scared. We’ve provided great service. Companies everywhere are scaling back services, but we aren’t, and we won’t.”
In speaking about the meeting earlier Thursday with ESDs, the Hospital District etc., Gillespie said, “The Mayor of Jasper and everyone agreed to continue services to Kirbyville. We can pull from Orange County to come if needed. We will provide more ambulance coverage if needed. No system will ever be perfect, but we will continue to grow and to meet those needs. We are looking into adding another unit, but as I said, staffing is always an issue. We actually did a class here in Jasper with DETCCA students at the High School and I think we have some really good candidates. ``
Kirbyville Mayor Frank George had this to say, “While there have been times that an ambulance was not available, things have gone pretty well for the most part. To bring Allegiance on was a county call. We did discuss it, but there wasn’t much that we could do. From what I was told, it would cost our taxpayers one million dollars a year. That would increase our taxes by 5 times to cover it. If we were to decide to unincorporated the city, then we could probably afford it but that would mean no police department, no public library, no public services of any kind, but we would have an ambulance. Our citizens just can’t afford that. As it stands, when it’s needed, they provide one for Kirbyville. If one isn’t available, we can utilize Air Rescue if it’s absolutely needed, or they can send one from a neighboring county. Whether or not there was an ambulance available, I don’t know, but for the most part, if there’s one not in use, they do try to send someone.”
George continued, “Acadian can’t transport to Jasper, so they left completely, to not transport from Kirbyville to Jasper is wrong. Besides, we probably don’t have enough call volume to support another service. Buna has coverage because they are unincorporated. It would probably take every nickel from taxes to fund one ambulance. As it is, they are being pretty good about it. We aren’t paying but they are still serving our people. I certainly can’t fault ESD4 or Allegiance. I think they are doing their best.”
When asked about the financial aspect of it, George said, “If we’re going to fault anyone, fault the county. ESDs 2% sales tax can’t fund it. There is no industry coming into (our area) to cover that expense. The issue needs to be taken care of. Kirbyville and Evadale are on our own. I appreciate what Allegiance is doing for our community, but the hospital issue needs to be looked into. But the bottom line is that there is no way we can generate enough revenue to pay for it unless we dissolve the city to free up tax dollars. There’s just no way we can put that kind of tax burden on our citizens.”
George continued, “An ambulance or two would help a good bit. But it’s as much a county issue as it is a city issue. You’ve got to think about it like this, would our people prefer a police department and fire department full time or an ambulance service every once in a while, because we can’t afford both at this point.”
Gary Barlow with ESD3 said, “As far as I can see (Allegiance) is doing good. Our First Responders aren’t having any trouble. Late or not, it’s good that we have someone to get our patients. Someone is better than no one.”
Sam Job Rayburn Fire and ESD4 President said, “District 4 and our Hospital Board are unequivocally better. Years ago, there were some true horror stories. Three people did die because of issues with emergency services. Now we have 5 full time ambulances and the best service ever. Of course, they're going to be hiccups, and false information on both sides. Tempers will flare but there will be lives saved. Jasper and Newton Counties are getting good representation, and they are actively working on bettering it. Allegiance Ambulance Service is doing a wonderful job.”
Justin Cude, Regional Vice president of Allegiance said, “There have been a few times where we have been delayed, but to my knowledge we’ve never been unable to go.”
Hospital District Board of Directors member, Jamie Gunter said, “In Texas, sales tax is usually between 6.25% and 8.25%. What was done in ESD4 was the district voted to raise the 6.25% tax to 8.25%. That’s such a tiny amount. As Steve Stewart said during an interview once, ‘So if I went to town and bought a dollar candy bar, instead of it costing me $1.06 it would cost me $1.08?’ I said exactly! Steve said, ‘It’s two cents! Two cents!’ And really, that’s how it’s done. You don’t have to raise property taxes. No one can afford that these days, but everyone can pay two extra cents. Every penny of that 2% goes directly to the ESD and then some. It really is that easy.”
Gunter provided this additional statement to ETB saying "...Since the date this contract was signed, we have been respectful of the impact that it will have on the Newton County and Kirbyville areas. When we met with representatives from these areas on the night the contract was signed, we explained this to them and offered to help, if possible, for up to 90-120 days giving them time to figure out what to do. 15 months later and neither have found a solution but yet as you can see in the attached, we continue to help as we can. To summarize since January 1st of 2023 through August 2023:
Total calls answered year to date: 4,597
Calls responded to in City of Jasper and ESD 4 response area: 3,688 (80% of total calls)
Calls responded to in the Kirbyville area: 310 (7% of total calls)
Calls responded to in the Newton County area: 599 (13% of total calls).
So, in total, 20% of the time in 2023 we are answering EMS calls outside of our jurisdictional area which is outside of the contracted area.
Please note that we or Allegiance are under any obligation to do this......as I previously said, we are offering to help if we have the resources available. This has been exemplified every month this year.....and every month since the inception of the contract."
Kirbyville Justice of the Peace Mike Smith said, “As it stands ESD 3 isn’t equipped for that to work. They are Fire Protection only. In order to do this, they would have to create a whole new ESD and include EMS with the Fire Protection. This could be done… maybe it will.”
See the Allegiance & City of Jasper Contract below: