SAN ANTONIO, TX - It doesn't take an expert to tell you traffic near Highway 281 and Loop 1604 is bad. But, what if that expert told you because of bad traffic, they couldn't get you to the hospital fast enough?
You'd probably take a second listen.
As the City of San Antonio expands its Northern borders and the services of the San Antonio Fire Department, those who already live in San Antonio, may suffer some unintended consequences.
It isn't the inconvenience of traffic that disturbs us, but rather the impact on lifesaving care, when minutes matter most. Consider:
Over the past two years, you've probably heard something about the 281 North commercial annexation plan. As reported by the San Antonio Express-News in Sept. 2016, the City of San Antonio plans to partner with the Bexar Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department to provide initial first responder emergency service. San Antonio firefighters and EMS would respond with them, but the Bexar Bulverde crews would respond first.
Annexation plans began in Nov. 2014, when the City of San Antonio directed the Department of Planning and Community Development to initiate annexation for five annexation "priority areas" in 2015 and 2016. They included IH-10 West, IH-10 East, Highway 151, Highway 90/Loop 1604, and US 281 North. (Source: City of San Antonio Planning & Community Development).
The emergency services plan for the Bexar Bulverde area is one that would no doubt, increase the already excellent level of service business owners and residents in the area have come to enjoy and expect. The Bexar Bulverde Volunteer Fire Department is one that is teeming with dedicated firefighters who have served that area for more than 40 years.
Given the City's annexation plan does not include building a new San Antonio Fire Department station, those who live South and East of that area within the City of San Antonio, may find themselves dealing with even longer response times in life threatening situations.
To understand the following example, view the map below for reference. The blue stars represent where Bexar Bulverde Fire Department stations are and where surrounding San Antonio Fire Department stations are in red.
As part of the City of San Antonio's annexation plan, Bexar Bulverde V.F.D. would be utilized to respond to fires in the commercial areas of 281 North, as they have always been. Assisting San Antonio Fire Departments from either Station 46 or Station 48 would then be called in to assist Bulverde area emergencies.
Now, if either Station 46 or Station 48 were called into the Bulverde area, Station 43 or Station 14 may be called to respond to emergencies in the area Station 46 and Station 48 normally cover.
In normal traffic, the drive from Station 46 to the furthest area Station 48 covers may only be 13 to 15 minutes. Those who drive frequently in that area may know back roads to get around a potentially heavy trafficked 1604 or busy Blanco Road. But imagine the heavy traffic in the morning and afternoon rush hours?
So, we checked it out for ourselves around 5 p.m. on a normal Wednesday. On that day, we drove a normal vehicle through traffic from Station 43 on West Bitters Road to Hardy Oak Boulevard in the Stone Oak Area. We took the most direct route on Google Maps, which indicated a 17 minute trip that included taking Loop 1604 and getting off at Stone Oak Parkway. At noon, that route indicated a 13 minute trip on Google Maps.
Now, just because firefighters are utilizing lights and sirens, it doesn't necessarily mean they are able to drive the truck across busy intersections or even navigate neighborhood streets effectively. As shown in the video and in the photo below, Stone Oak Parkway is a two-lane road with grass and sidewalks lining it. It would be unsafe to drive on that, especially during a busy rush hour.
The San Antonio Professional Firefighters Association is deeply concerned that if the 281 North commercial area is annexed, it will pull San Antonio Fire Station resources farther out. Currently, the San Antonio Fire Department serves a 597.1 square mile radius (or 1,469,845 people) with 51 stations. As a reference, the City of Dallas serves a 385.8 square mile radius (or 1,300,092 people) and has 58 fire stations. (Source: Wikipedia)
In a worst case scenario, if one fire crew was out in another fire station's area, it could mean the response time to an emergency right across the street from their station could be significantly impacted.
SAPFFA is currently conducting research on how a new fire station would greatly benefit not only new Northern neighbors, should the area be annexed in Dec. 2016, but the San Antonio residents who sorely need it.
In the meantime, can you afford to wait?