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Communication gaps under scrutiny in Astroworld EMS response

Houston firefighters outside NRG Park had no direct radio contact with the Astroworld medical team inside.

HOUSTON — Communication gaps in the emergency medical response at Astroworld surfaced long before Travis Scott ever took the stage.

Not all first responders appeared to be on the same page, beginning with the event’s medical operations plan.

When asked if anyone at the Houston Fire Department had ever seen the document, Chief Samuel Pena replied “not that I know of.”

Pena said HFD was initially serving in a support role because festival organizers had hired a private company, ParaDocs, to provide event medical services. According to the company’s plan, two-way radios were to be used as the go-to means of communication for medical calls.

Pena acknowledged Wednesday that none of his firefighters in a command post near NRG Park were provided with those radios.

“If you’re asking if we had radio-to-radio communication with ParaDocs, no,” Pena said.

The Chief said HFD only had direct radio contact with the Harris County Emergency Corps, HCEC, a non-profit agency hired by festival organizers to provide a few ambulances on site. A spokesperson for ParaDocs confirmed company medics could radio HCEC from the field.

The Houston Professional Firefighters Association, HFD’s union, said the arrangement made for an inefficient, roundabout way of communicating when concertgoers were in distress and needing emergency help.

“Getting them there quicker in the emergency response world is absolutely critical, seconds matter, lives matter,” said union president Marty Lancton.

“The point is, is that you want to take as many middle people out of it as possible,” he said.

Lancton said a district fire chief tried to do just that hours before the festival began Friday, by asking event staff for radios.

“Instead of giving us a radio, I’m told that they were given a list of cell phone numbers,” Lancton said.

Cell service can be spotty at a concert with more than 50,000 fans.

While acknowledging the need for improvement in the future, Chief Pena cautioned against anyone taking the radio communication issues out of proportion.

“To make it seem like, because that didn’t happen, people died, I’m not going to take that leap,” Pena said.

For future contingency planning for NRG events, Pena said there needs to be more collaboration between all EMS agencies involved.

“When these big productions are held in this venue, we want to be present and at the table from the beginning,” he said.

NRG Park, while located in the City of Houston limits, is actually a Harris County-owned facility. A ParaDocs spokesman said EMS and 911 response was strictly under the county’s jurisdiction.

“Our goal here is not to cast blame on any organization. This is not a City of Houston sanctioned event. It’s a Harris County sanctioned event," Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said Wednedsay. 

The company provided the following statement:

“As healthcare professionals our hearts weigh especially heavy for the lives lost, as well as their loved ones. ParaDocs Worldwide will do everything we can to support authorities in their investigation, and we are confident that the facts will demonstrate that the care we provided followed the appropriate protocols and operating procedures that were in place.”