Waller County EMS ambulances found with emissions defeat devices

Public Funds paid for emissions equipment removal and costly fix is underway

WALLER COUNTY – KPRC2 Investigates has learned the Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing a whistleblower complaint about emissions defeat devices on at least four Waller County EMS ambulances.

The ambulances are owned by Waller-Harris Emergency Services District 200, a taxing authority, that collected about $12 million in 2022 from both property and sales taxes within its 608 sq. mile territory.

Unconventionally, the person who alerted the US EPA about the issue is the same person who is ultimately responsible for the ambulances, Tim Gibson, Director of ESD 200. Gibson did not authorize the changes, which were made before his tenure as Director.

The four diesel ambulances were equipped with so-called “delete kits” that are designed to bypass federally mandated emissions standards.

Waller-Harris Emergency Services District 200 serves approximately 73,000 people over 608 sq. mile coverage area in two counties. (WH-ESD200)

Why was the emissions equipment removed?

Waller County Constable, Bo Hashaw, said by phone that he authorized the deletion of emissions equipment on the ambulances, (he recollects three ambulances), in his other job capacity as Director of Waller County EMS.

Hashaw said that the ambulances in question were performing unreliably with the factory emissions equipment in place.

“That was the recommendation in order to be able to provide the services that we had to provide and get people to the hospital that we had, and that was really the only choice I had,” Hashaw said.

According to records obtained by KPRC2 Investigates, the work was performed by Barry Fleet Services in Hempstead.

Maintenance expense entry for Waller County EMS. (KPRC-TV)

How much will this cost taxpayers?

ESD 200 Director Tim Gibson said that he would try to recoup at least some of the cost of restoring the trucks’ emissions systems back from their service provider, Waller County EMS.

It is unclear if and when that will happen.

The relationship between the two entities is contentious.

In the meantime, taxpayers who also partially fund Waller County EMS, will foot the bill to bring the trucks back within federal emissions standards.

The total cost of the repairs is approximately $105,000 according to information provided by Gibson. This figure does not include the expense of removing/bypassing the emissions equipment.

What is the EPA’s involvement?

Gibson felt he was obligated to report the emissions equipment issues to the EPA.

The EPA does investigate emissions tampering cases and encourages the public to report instances of suspected illegal removal of emissions equipment via email at: tampering@epa.gov

The EPA has also pursued, in civil court, costly fines for entities that have bypassed federally mandated emissions equipment.

From 2013-2022 the EPA settled 321 cases of suspected emissions tampering.

The settlements include a $1.45 billion dollar penalty for Volkswagen in 2017, in what has been the most widely publicized tampering case, to date.

But the EPA also pursues smaller cases.

In 2017, the EPA alleged that Houston-based Boost Diesel Repair, LLC had “had sold and installed products which render inoperative emission control systems on EPA-certified motor vehicles” in 2016. The case was settled for a $100

The EPA determined that Boost Diesel Repair had altered 15 vehicles illegally from 2014-2016.

You can read more information about the cases the EPA has settled here.

After the story first aired...

Constable Bo Hashaw, who is also Director of Waller County EMS, drew our attention to an EPA revision in 2012 that allowed manufacturers of emergency vehicles to apply for the ability to modify ambulances and other emergency vehicles with emissions bypass devices.

The EPA revision does not apply in this case because the manufacturer of the vehicles did not apply/receive/modify the vehicles. Instead, a third party mechanic, at Hashaw’s directive, made the modifications.

“Still, the acknowledgement that the vehicles will fail is there,” Hashaw said.