SAFD ambulance bus providing additional help in recent mass tragedies

There are 16 AMBUSes across the state through the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force.

SAFD’s AMBUS is one of 16 positioned across the state.

SAN ANTONIO – In two recent mass casualty events, the San Antonio Fire Department’s AMBUS has been utilized to help first responders.

San Antonio Fire Department responded to the Quintana Road tragedy after dozens of migrants were found in a tractor-trailer and the mass shooting in Uvalde.

“Once crews got (to Quintana Road), they realized there was multiple victims. They found the door to the truck partially open to open it up and found, well, we are all familiar with what they found now,” said Joe Arrington, public information officer for SAFD.

More than 60 firefighters, 20 fire engines, 10 medical units, and SAFD’s ambulance bus, or AMBUS, descended onto Quintana Road on June 27 when dozens of people were found dead and many others with heat-related illnesses in the back of an 18-wheeler.

“We have what’s called an AMBUS or an ambulance bus as part of the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force. It’s a statewide group,” Arrington said.

SAFD’s AMBUS is one of 16 positioned across the state.

“They have a litany of things they can be used for,” Arrington said.

According to the Texas Emergency Medical Task Force website, the primary mission of the AMBUS is to “provide advanced medical transport and evacuation services for a large-scale disaster.”

The secondary mission deals with mass casualty events, rehab for fire crews on scene, and mobile ICUs to treat injured people.

“Unfortunately, they’re also used in events like this with the medical examiner’s office. If you need to transport bodies, you can,” Arrington said.

The bodies of the 48 people who were already dead when the trailer doors opened were taken on the AMBUS.

“A mobile morgue,” Arrington said, describing the AMBUS.

It’s not the first time it has been used in this way.

“You said it also went to Uvalde?” KSAT reporter Leigh Waldman said.

“It did,” Arrington said.

“Can you talk to me how it was utilized there?” Waldman asked.

“The same there,” Arrington said.

The children and teachers that could be saved from Robb Elementary were taken by ambulance or helicopter. The AMBUS took the bodies of those who died.

“It’s frustrating to know that we weren’t able to do more, but at the same time, knowing that they can be moved in a dignified manner, we can give them the respect they deserve,” Arrington said.

Our area has two other AMBUSes, one in New Braunfels and the other in Schertz.

Each AMBUS can carry 24 seated patients or 20 patients in beds. As far as staffing the AMBUS, there’s always a driver and at least four medics on board.

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About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Gavin Nesbitt is a photojournalist and video editor who joined KSAT in September 2021. He has traveled across the great state of Texas to film, conduct interviews and edit many major news stories, including the White Settlement church shooting, Hurricane Hanna, 2020 presidential campaigns, Texas border coverage and the Spurs.