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AFD aims to weigh in on developments sooner rather than later

Friday, January 19, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The Austin Fire Department could soon start reviewing individual development plans much earlier in the process than it currently does.

Fire Marshal Rob Vires told the Public Safety Commission at its Jan. 8 special called meeting about ongoing discussions to allow AFD engineers to have a seat at the table during the preliminary master review process.

The discussion item was sponsored by Commissioner Carol Lee, who started the conversation by recounting third-party anecdotes about ambulances and fire trucks running into obstacles such as narrow streets or inopportunely placed guardrails.

“And I know that I’ve seen Austin Fire Department review comments on subdivision plans, but I honestly don’t understand and want to get a better understanding about how robust our review is in citywide plans the pedestrian plans, mobility, CodeNEXT to get a level of comfort that we’re looking at best practices and specifications that allow our public safety responders to serve the public and not create a hazard in our built environment,” Lee said.

Vires confirmed that firefighters recently had to remove bollards on a curved street in Southwest Austin in order to get their engine through. He explained that the department does not get an automatic review of subdivision projects until after street design and other considerations such as tree placement have been cleared.

“The criteria manual for the Fire Department shows us being included at the third step, which is site plan review,” he explained. “At that point, developers have already got their master plan done and seemingly approved without all the stakeholders, the Fire Department specifically, having had a chance to look it over.”

He said the department’s fire engineers can only see plans before that stage if other city departments flag certain issues.

However, in the past six months, the department has been in conversations with other “stakeholders” including the Austin Transportation Department and the Pedestrian Advisory Council to discuss getting AFD involved in the process during the initial phase of a given project.

“There are a variety of tools that we have that are usable on the front side when the development is in the design phase versus the perceived accepted phase,” he told the commission. “You have to get creative, and that creativeness creates some consternation after the fact. So we’re hoping to solve that on the front side … by making sure the right people are at the right table.”

Photo by J.Köster made available by a Creative Commons license.

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