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Fire Department to seek new stations

Monday, June 6, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Wednesday was the 100th birthday of the Austin Fire Department, so, naturally, the members of City Council had to sing “Happy Birthday” to AFD Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr during their work session.

Kerr noted that the department started with 27 men, with an emphasis on “men.” “I can’t imagine what they would think about having grown to a department of almost 1,200 men and women and the difference in the delivery of services, and of apparatus and equipment technology, that we’ve achieved. So it’s happy birthday, Austin Fire Department!”

After the singing, Kerr told Council about the work that the department does, less than 5 percent of which is fire response. The chief explained that her department covers 323 square miles and responded to a total of 9,563 incidents in Fiscal Year 2014-15. She said that 90 percent of the time, AFD arrived on the scene of the fire or other emergency within eight minutes and 55 seconds or less.

While that sounds good, it is nearly one minute longer than the department’s goal, which is in line with national standards. Kerr said response time can be reduced by addressing what she called “standard of coverage deficiencies,” or in other words, by placing more fire stations closer to residents who need the service.

Significant development on the edges of the city and increased population have increased AFD’s response time for those areas, Kerr said. For example, the fire response time to Travis Country in District 8 is slightly more than 12 minutes. Response time for the Loop 360 area, which includes Districts 8 and 10, is more than 10 minutes. Those two areas represent the highest priorities for adding fire stations, followed by Goodnight Ranch and Moore’s Crossing in District 2 and Canyon Creek in District 6, she said.

Staff is expected to ask Council to consider a plan for maintaining the fire department’s standard of coverage later this month. The proposal will include funding mechanisms and timelines for building fire stations in the five areas of immediate need, Kerr said.

Council Member Don Zimmerman, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, declared that he was astonished to learn that such a high percentage of what the department does is non-fire related.

Kerr responded, “We say we’re the Austin Fire Department, where our mission goes beyond our name. We respond to water rescues, any other type of rescues, vehicle rescues, all of those things that are part of our job that (go) above and beyond just fighting fires.” She noted that the fire department is a multi-agency emergency organization that responds to many kinds of calls for service beyond what a police department would do.

Zimmerman offered a typical response. “Fair enough, but we have an affordability problem,” he said. “I could say we’re a city where taxes and fees go beyond our budget.” Nevertheless, he said that the Canyon Creek area was near and dear to his heart.

On the slide Kerr presented about areas needing new stations, Canyon Creek was estimated to have 500 housing units, which she said she got from the Travis County Appraisal District. Zimmerman told her the number was considerably higher, having campaigned in the area.

Photo by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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