By Ian Lovett
The calls come in thick and fast from the border, just blocks from the fire station here.
A woman suffered heatstroke in line at the port of entry. A person detained by customs officers complained of chest pain. An illegal immigrant broke his leg trying to hop the 20-foot wall that divides Calexico from its Mexican twin city, Mexicali.
In each case, the Calexico Fire Department responded.
All along the Southwest border, from San Diego to Brownsville, Tex., local fire departments respond to medical calls as they would to any emergencies within their city limits. But such calls for medical assistance at the border have become a growing burden on the finances and resources of fire departments in cities like this one, in the California desert 100 miles east of San Diego.
Last year, with trips to the port of entry and the Border Patrol station and others to assist injured fence-jumpers, Calexico firefighters responded to 725 calls associated with the border — a fifth of all calls the department received.
Chief Pete Mercado said the department’s lone ambulance would sometimes make 10 trips to the port of entry in a given day. For many of those, he said, the department is not able to collect payment, while the ambulance is rendered unavailable for other emergencies.
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