Texas city's state-of-the-art 'COVID ambulances' to hit the road in January

Converse spent its CARES Act money on the Infectious Disease Response Units, which feature several technological upgrades


Jeff B. Flinn
San Antonio Express-News

CONVERSE, Texas —The city of Converse expects to have three new ambulances on the road by mid-January after receiving the specially equipped state-of-the-art infectious disease transporters last week.

The city spent its $826,393 of CARES (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security) Act money on the Infectious Disease Response Units, or IDRUs, that feature a ceiling-mounted surface disinfection system, ultraviolet air purifiers, antimicrobial grab bars and a sealed rear cab with driver monitor communication among other technological upgrades.

"These are state-of-the-art ambulances that no other city has, outfitted to help our firefighters deal with COVID-19 calls," Mayor Al Suarez said during the city's Dec. 23 rollout of the three IDRUs. "One of the reasons we decided to invest the (funding) from the CARES Act is that we wanted to find a good way to give back and serve all of the community."

The ambulances, manufactured by Frazer Ambulance Co. in Houston, are expected to hit the road in mid-January after receiving state certification. The certification, Suarez said, is dependent on the holiday schedule and communication with the Texas Department of State Health Services.

"This is a big improvement for our emergency medical service," Converse Fire Chief Luis Valdez said. "When the CARES Act was being discussed, I was asked right away, 'What do you need? What need do you have that can help protect the city and its citizens?' One of the first things I said was we need to upgrade our ambulances."

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The city's request went forward in October just after the city was made aware of the remaining three Frazer IDRUs — just before the CARES Act spending deadline expired.

"They have the highest technology system available, whether it's COVID or anything else," Valdez said. "It also helps protect other patients ... and our own personnel, giving them peace of mind. It helps them do their jobs, with the best technology and equipment available anywhere."

The city currently has two full-service ambulances that require full wipe downs and cleanings after each run, due to the potential of transporting patients that may test positive for COVID-19.

"It was the first priority," Valdez added. "We were excited because we knew what it would do for us and what it would do for the community. It will protect our firefighters better, and we were just thrilled with that."

The city was stunned this summer when one of its firefighters, Capt. Bryant Anderson, a 16-year veteran of the department, died from complications related to the novel coronavirus.

Protecting its fire-fighting EMTs during all emergency calls was paramount for continuing the city's effort to improve public safety, Suarez said. " Converse is known for its public safety, our no. 1 concern as always, and this (purchase) is part of that public safety."

Valdez said the department is working to stock and license the vehicles in hopes of having the IDRUs in service before Jan. 15, Valdez said.

The three units will remain at Fire Station No. 1 on Toepperwein Road until certification is obtained. They will then serve split service between station 1 and station no. 2 on Thornton Lane at Schaefer Road.

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(c)2020 the San Antonio Express-News

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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