Nov 22, 2022 - News

Ambulance shortage strikes Houston

Illustration of an ambulance symbol with an exclamation point in the middle of it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Fire departments across Texas are having to wait longer than usual to update their ambulance fleets, which is driving up costs and forcing many of them to use outdated vehicles to keep up with calls.

Why it matters: First responders need reliable, maintained ambulances without high mileage to ensure fast response times.

  • But the ongoing microchip shortage, global supply chain issues and slower plant output have made it harder to replace older ambulances.

Driving the news: Fire officials across Texas drafted a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and President Joe Biden urging them to help find a solution, Houston Fire Chief Samuel Peña tells Axios.

  • Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson recently wrote his own letter to Buttigieg asking for help. He said the delays jeopardize public safety in Texas and across the U.S.

Threat level: Houston has ordered 30 new ambulances in the last two years to rejuvenate its aging fleet — but has received only six so far.

  • "It's really going to put a crunch on our ability to deliver services," Peña says. "Without that, we're going to fall further and further behind in our replacement cycle."

Zoom out: Austin usually orders around 15 new ambulances at a time to maintain its fleet of 80 to 90 vehicles. This year, the city has had to use older vehicles, increasing maintenance costs by $3 million, the Dallas mayor wrote in his letter.

  • Yes, but: Near Dallas, the city of Arlington isn't struggling because the city partners with a private ambulance company that invested in a new fleet during the peak of the pandemic.

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