Gonzales celebrates 50 years of community EMS service


On March 1, 1974, Seydler-Hill Funeral Home parked their Oldsmobile ambulance at the Gonzales City Hall and left the keys with it.

Had it not been that Seydler-Hill had warned the community months in advance, this could have been disastrous. Knowing this was coming, a group of citizens formed the Gonzales County Volunteer Ambulance Corps. They enlisted the help and leadership of a new young doctor in town, Dr. Robert A. Williamson.

At the designated time, the first aid, CPR, and some EMT volunteers were trained, certified and ready to go. Calls were dispatched via pagers to the volunteers who were designated for their shift, usually 12 hours at a time.

For a number of years, as the service grew, additional ambulances were gradually added to the fleet as calls increased. The ambulances were parked next to City Hall under a metal cover, often referred to as “the barn.” When a call was dispatched, the Gonzales Police Department dispatcher on duty would hurry outside to unlock and start the ambulance so it would be ready and warming up when the volunteers arrived.

For several years the city allowed the Ambulance Corps to have a storage cabinet in City Hall to store medical supplies. Eventually, a portable building was added next to the ambulances to hold supplies and training equipment.

Around 1986 the Ambulance Corps was able to build a small station in the 500 block of Saint Francis Street, on city property. That building could narrowly house three ambulances, a small dormitory for one person and a supply closet. Ambulances could be pulled out on the concrete drive and tables set up for classes and meetings.

In 1989, when training requirements had multiplied immensely and volunteer ranks were diminishing, the citizens and voters of Gonzales County elected, by a margin of 86 percent in favor, to create the Gonzales County Emergency Services District.

The purpose was to stabilize the funding and advance the level of care of prehospital emergency care in Gonzales County. The ESD legislation was passed in 1987. Gonzales County became only the seventh ESD in the state. (There are now approximately 375 ESDs covering one-third of Texas’ fire and EMS needs.) The Gonzales Volunteer Ambulance Corps was 15 years old at that time.

About the same time, the GCESD Board of Directors asked the “Gonzales County Rescue & Recovery” team to join the Ambulance Corps. That arrangement has worked well ever since. The Rescue Team, still all volunteers, helps with auto crash disentanglements, swift water rescues and drownings.

They also help protect other first responders by directing traffic at crash scenes and setting up helicopter landing zones when needed. They also assist EMTs and Paramedics with lifting and loading patients, assisting with treatment, and driving the ambulance if both medics are needed in the back of the ambulance. This group is now simply known as the Rescue Division of the EMS.

After the creation of the ESD, the ESD Board of Commissioners chose to contract the two then existing EMS agencies in Gonzales County: The Gonzales Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Nixon-Smiley Volunteer Ambulance. The GVAC covered from the northern boundary of the county down to approximately Bebe across to Smiley. Gonzales covered about 80 percent and Nixon-Smiley the other 20 percent. Eventually the Nixon-Smiley organization closed and the ESD contracted solely with the Gonzales Volunteer Ambulance Corp, dba Gonzales County EMS & Rescue.

In the mid 1990s, the GVAC had outgrown the St. Francis Street Station. A building at 1703 St. Joseph St., next to the Whataburger, became the next building to be remodeled and adapted. Some years later, a lot behind the St. Joseph St. building was purchased and a metal building was built to house the ambulance and rescue assets.

While transitioning from the 501(c)(3) to the ESD operation, the ESD had to have a separate office location to get licensed by Medicare. Offices were built inside the Qualls Street ambulance building, which were inadequate but sufficient for temporary use. A location at 1724 Hickston was then purchased in March 2021 to house the ESD administrative offices, a meeting room, classroom, kitchen, restrooms and such for the crews. Living quarters for the employees then moved into the previous admin offices in the Qualls building.

When GVAC had reached 45 years of service, and the ESD, created in 1989, was 30 years old, the ESD Commissioners opted to take over the direct provision of EMS and Rescue. On March 20, 2020, the Gonzales County ESD No. 1 had their TEXAS EMERGENCY SERVICES PROVIDER LICENSE from the Texas Department of State Health Services, and just like when Seydler-Hill turned the ambulance service over to the volunteers 45 years earlier, the ESD was ready and never missed a beat.

As of March 2024, it will be 50 years since the handoff from Seydler-Hill. Of note is that over those 50 years, the sophistication and abilities of the local EMS have increased beyond measure. It is also noteworthy that local EMS responses have gone from the volunteer days when alerts were made by pager and volunteers had to drive to the “barn” to today. Now, crews are notified by radio and are one of four crews at three stations in the county where their response is almost immediate. The annual call volume has gone from about 300 to over 3,000 per year.

EMS in Gonzales County is about to begin its second half century. Thanks to the leadership of their ESD Commissioners and support from the citizens for the first fifty years, Gonzales County ESD #1 EMS & Rescue is poised to do even grander and more meaningful things in the future. With the new station — where EMS employees and Rescue volunteers will be more comfortable and better able to train and practice, and where citizens will have opportunities to learn CPR, First Aid, Stop the Bleed and other meaningful skills — prehospital emergency care will get better and more lives will be saved in the future than in the past.

The public is invited to come see the new EMS & Rescue station at 1700 Water St., Gonzales, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 21.