WEATHER WATCH
Whistleblower says El Paso ambulances picking up COVID-19 patients from Juarez
Ambulance (credit: KFOX14/CBS4){p}{/p}

El Paso is making international headlines for the COVID-19 outbreak.

As emergency responders are being recognized across the nation, El Paso's first responders may be facing more danger from COVID-19 than anyone else.

El Paso firefighters in the trenches of the COVID-19 pandemic, cannot talk on the record about the number of people they are picking up every day from El Paso's international bridges.

But a whistleblower inside the fire department spoke to KFOX14 exclusively on condition of anonymity.

“There's somedays where it's only three or four times and other days when it will be 13 or 14 responses. You'll be there for one patient and [CBP] customs will let you know, hey there's another one right behind them and another one sometime there are four or five waiting in line,” said the anonymous source.

As a result of what appear to be escalating ambulance responses at the international bridges by the El Paso Fire Department, KFOX14’s source insists the city of El Paso is being left in a dangerously vulnerable position.

KFOX14 anchor Erika Castillo was at the Stanton Bridge in downtown El Paso when a firetruck picked up a person from Ciudad Juarez and crossed back to El Paso to send the person to the nearest hospital.

But doing so now at this point of overload on our rescue and hospital resources, may be leaving the city of El Paso in a dangerously vulnerable position.

“I don't want this to sound the wrong way because our job is to help people. That's why we do our job. That's why you leave your families to protect people. At the same time, we took an oath to protect the citizens and the city of El Paso. And multiple times in this pandemic we will be in a complete system overload where there are no rescues available. There are no ambulances available,” said the anonymous source.

No private companies are allowed to pick up the patients coming from Cd. Juarez at the international bridges.

Only the city's EMT’s are legally allowed to transport them. Who pays for that? And what happens when El Pasoans need those ambulances are questions KFOX14 is asking officials.

And why are those coming from Cd. Juarez not going to hospitals in Cd. Juarez?

“They'll give you different reasons, some of them will say they are scared because everyone dies at those hospitals. Some of them have told us the hospitals there won't let them in unless they can pay everything in advance,” said the anonymous source.

This seasoned El Paso firefighter chose to speak due to circumstances he feels now exposes the fire department and El Paso's precious rescue resources as well as the city of El Paso itself to what he believes is a critical COVID-19 reality.

“When our resources are going to the bridge it doesn’t seem like we are taking care of our city. It’s sad to say but right now with this stuff going on with our hospitals being overloaded. They've said you have to make tough decisions at this time. Hospitals are having to do it all the time. And that tough decision must be made as to what we are going to use our finite number of resources on,” said the anonymous source.

Officials with the El Paso Fire Department told KFOX14 the response times to the bridges are not out of the ordinary as compared to the summer months.

However, a deputy fire chief acknowledged that the 35 city ambulances are taking longer between COVID-19 calls due to EMT’s waiting for patients to be admitted at hospitals, and then the units having to be disinfected.

Fire department officials said when resources are low, deputy chiefs can reassign ambulances from other parts of town to areas where they are needed.

KFOX14 requested information to get more concrete answers, including how often the fire department is going to the international bridges, how long it's taking to handle those calls, and disinfect ambulances before they can be used again, and how our response times are being affected.

We'll bring you those answers as soon as we track them down.

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