Border Patrol Agents assist victim in simulated accident
Agent Carlos Lara Daman Chavez (center) places James Hughes' neck in a C-Collar, after a simulated accident to stabilize his c-spine while agents James Hughes (right) and John Rodriguez (far left) assist.

(FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas) - In a move to increase safety, specifically in often harsh work environments, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol initiated their first self-trained National Registry Emergency Medicine Technician Basic Course Jan. 12, one of two courses held in El Paso. The six-week 110-hour course was approved by the U.S. Army EMS Programs Management Office.

This is the first federal office outside the military to receive a site code from U.S. Army EMS. The course took place in El Paso, Texas, which is part of the El Paso CBP Patrol Sector. This sector is one of nine in the United States and patrols the southwest border between the United States and Mexico covering 125,000 square miles and 268 miles of international border. The sector consists of eleven stations, six permanent vehicle checkpoints and employs about 2,400 Border Patrol Agents.

Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Abel Meza, of the El Paso CBP leadership and the EMT Program Coordinator, started the process in October 2008 by contacting the U.S. Army EMS Accreditation Branch.

The catalyst to create this course and to train agents in-house was two-fold. First, outside contract agencies prove costly and unavailable to meet the demanding schedules of the CBP personnel. Second, agents work in severe areas, 30 to 60 minutes away from local emergency medical service response. Due to the environment, often the health and safety of civilians and the agents themselves require immediate medical care.

The focus to increase medical skills using the NREMT-Basic course increased both after 9-11 and a helicopter crash involving two CBP agents in May 2007. To provide better care each sector sent their agents to outside schools, with the El Paso Sector sending a total of 100 basic, 10 intermediate and nine paramedic personnel.

In moving to become an Army EMT-authorized Training Site, the El Paso Sector adopted 2009 and 2010 fiscal year goals of training 50 more NREMT-Basic personnel each year. This move has prompted another sector to possibly adopt the same process.

Looking to the future, Meza is also looking into the El Paso Sector EMT Training Site becoming a national CBP training location, supporting equivalent yearly goals for the nine other CBP Patrol Sectors.

The U.S. Army EMS office, considered the 51st \'State' by the NREMT provided initial guidance and follow-on assistance to create this new training site. As part of the regulatory process to ensure high educational standards and provide program development assistance, Kevin Williams, compliance and regulatory lead, U.S. Army EMS, Army Medical Command Center and School, reviewed the course at the CBP Training Center in El Paso.

"The Border Patrol has a pretty impressive training site, with some dedicated instructors," said Williams.

When visiting a site the U.S. Army EMS staff inspects to ensure the Department of Transportation and Army Medical Department Center and School standards are met. Equipment is checked for serviceability and sufficient quantities to run a course, as well as reviewing administrative processes and record keeping requirements. The El Paso CBP Course received high marks in all areas.

The students also praised their training instructors, with one stating, "There was plenty of practical skills exercise, including vehicle extrication that gave me more confidence to do my job."

Ten students in the course, including U.S. Marshalls who operate jointly with the CBP, successfully completed the course and passed the NREMT-Basic certification exam. Meza and Senior Patrol Agent Carlos Tsougas demonstrated these attributes, surpassed the standard, and gave their students a solid educational foundation upon which to build. The U.S. Army EMS office looks forward to this federal partnership. Since the initial course the El Paso Sector began another EMT-Basic course that started March 2 for six members of the Border Patrol Search Trauma and Rescue team. They also held a 24-hour NREMT-Refresher course in February 2009.

Page last updated Fri April 17th, 2009 at 12:05