Austin Fire Department Chronological History
John Bremond, Sr. moved to Austin from Philadelphia in the 1840´s to start a mercantile and wholesale goods business. While living in New York and Pennsylvania, Bremond was a member of the local volunteer fire departments, and was about the only person in Austin who knew anything about the formation, equipment, and drilling of a fire company.
By the late 1850´s, Austin was in desperate need of organized fire protection. Bremond led the formation of Austin´s first fire company, called Hook and Ladder Fire Company #1, which was chartered on September 25, 1857 and by 1861 had more fully organized and enjoyed an extensive membership.
The first ladder truck was a locally made, hand drawn apparatus equipped with hooks, pike poles, ladders, and leather fire buckets. The first uniforms consisted of blue eight-cone firefighter hats, red shirts with “H. & L. No. 1″ across the breast and black patent leather belts with white gloves. The company´s motto was, “Always Ready!”
Alarms were given by cries of “fire!”, pistol shots and ringing of church bells. The first man to get the key would open the truck house and act as commander; the truck then would be pulled out, and the members would fall in and grab hold of the ropes.
The first fire of significance following the organization of Hook and Ladder #1 was the burning of the Glasscock and Millican Mill ($20,000 loss). By July of that year, there had been more than 25 fires, many believed to have been arson.
Over 100 of Austin´s volunteer firefighters enlisted in the Confederate Army to fight in the Civil War. The Tom Green Rifles, Austin´s contingent to the Confederacy, were comprised of many of these firemen and suffered 80% casualties in the War Between the States. Lt. John Lambert, one of the founding members of Hook and Ladder #1 , was killed in action in Virginia.
The City Council appointed C.F. Millett as the first person to hold the position of Fire Chief. Also that year, cisterns were installed at eight locations to supply water for fire protection.
The Civil War delayed the organization of more fire companies for ten years until Washington Fire Company #1 was established. In 1885, Washington #1 built their permanent fire station at 605 Brazos Street where it still stands today. Their first fire engine consisted of a hand-drawn, hand-pumped apparatus which was later replaced by a horse-drawn steam fire engine. Washington #1´s motto was “Where Duty Calls, There you will find us!”
Austin had a population of 5,000.
A third company, Colorado Fire Company #2, was organized. Permanently housed with Hook and Ladder #1, these two companies became Austin´s first Task Force which has remained intact for almost 150 years.
A fire in the State Capitol on Feb. 14, 1874, burned completely through the floor between the second and third floors. According to fire department records, “It was owing only to the timely arrival of several members of the Hook and Ladder Company that the building was saved.” The City Council approved the hiring of an engineer to operate a new $6,000 engine. He was on duty at all times and was paid a monthly salary of $100. This was the beginning of Austin as a combination of paid and volunteer firefighters.
The City Water Company installed the first hydrant system on Austin´s two main streets: Congress Avenue and Pecan Street.
On March 23, a new city ordinance provided for an Assistant Chief, Recorder, and Fire and Police Commissioner, in addition to the Fire Chief.
Central Engine Fire Company #3 was established with a chemical engine at 4th Street and East Avenue. The chemical engine proved to be unsatisfactory and the company disbanded in 1877.
The Hope Hook and Ladder Fire Company #2, also established in 1875, lived a short but glorious existence. Hope´s main claim to fame was a State Championship race won in 1878. It was disbanded in 1882.
A fire on November 9th at the Blind Asylum injured several firefighters leading to Austin´s first line of duty death. E.T. Deats, foreman of Colorado Fire Company #2, died as a result of his injuries on January 20, 1878.
Essex Carrington, one of at least three African American firefighters integrated in the volunteer fire departments, is first mentioned in the Washington #1 roll of membership.
Protection Hook and Ladder Fire Company #3 was organized and later became Protection Hose Company #3. Protection #3 built Austin´s first permanent fire station at 1614 Lavaca Street. The following year, while battling a fire at a residence (their second fire of the day), an arsonist burned down Protection´s firehouse. Another fire station was finally built on the same location in 1890. Their motto was “Protection to all!”
On November 9, 1881, catastrophe struck the Texas State Capitol Building. A state employee installed a new wood-burning stove but did not properly check to see if the flue was operational. A small fire was started when the stove was first fired and the Austin Fire Department quickly responded to the incipient blaze. Unfortunately, the Texas Legislature failed to heed the warning of the fire department to pay for the installation of fire hydrants on the Capitol grounds. Washington #1 caught the nearest plug, which was at 11th and Congress, but had to lay 700 feet of 2.5 inch hose uphill. The result was a trickle of water hardly enough to put out a cigarette. If it wasn´t for the “penny wise, pound foolish policy” of the Texas Legislature the Capitol could have been saved along with priceless artifacts lost, such as portraits of George Washington, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and Tom Green.
On July 6, the City Council budgeted $346 per month for salaries of engineers, rent of rooms for engines, hose carriages, hook and ladder trucks, and other expenses.
The first Central Fire Station No. 1 was built at 114 W. 8th Street next to the old city hall building. This is where Hook and Ladder #1 and Colorado #2 were housed. Central´s was closed and rebuilt in its current location at 401 E. 5th St. in 1938.
Washington #1 also built their fire station this year at 605 Brazos St. where it stands today as a remodeled office building.
East Austin Fire Company #4 was established. Their fire hall was located between 10th and 11th streets, on Lydia Street in East Austin. Their motto was “Ever brave and true!”
The fire alarm system at this time included an approximately 4,000-pound, spring-clapper, general alarm bell at city hall and bell towers at two other fire houses. All companies were connected by a special phone system. When a report of fire came in, the alarm was sent to central; central then pressed a button and all companies were notified of the fire and its location (six rings for sixth ward, for instance). The officer on-duty at city hall was notified by central over the phone and rang the alarm bell, indicating location by number of taps. Each company had a prescribed district for first alarms. All companies turned out for second alarms.
South Austin Fire Company #5 located at 1315 South Congress was established. Their motto was “To the Rescue!” This location served as the only fire station in South Austin until Fire Station 11 was added in 1949.
North Austin Fire Company #6 was established. Originally located at 30th and Rio Grande streets, a permanent hall was built at 3002 Guadalupe St. The fire hall filled both the occupational and social functions of the community. The ground level was the maintenance shop and the second story consisted of one large main room with a stage. The volunteer firefighters´ band would play as community members danced and socialized. The volunteers ran the house until 1916 when they turned it over to the city government, which hired professional firefighters. The structure was used for many years as a maintenance shop for the Austin Fire Department. It has since been restored and preserved for future generations.
The building that was utilized as the temporary State Capitol (following the 1881 fire) and later used as Austin High School, burned on September 30th. It was located on the southwest corner of Congress Avenue and 11th Street. Many firefighters were injured in this blaze and it is a miracle that nobody was killed.
West Austin Fire Company #7 was organized on February 16th at 1000 Blanco Street. This fire station is the only fire station dating back to the volunteer and horse drawn era which is still utilized as a working firehouse today. It is now called Fire Station 4.
Tenth Ward Fire Company #8 was organized on May 26th and located their fire hall at 1111 East 1st Street (Cesar Chavez).
Adolf Schutze was elected Chief of the Austin Volunteer Fire Department. He barely had pinned on his Chief´s badge when his first alarm sounded. He hitched a ride on a ladder truck instead of going to the fire in the wagon provided by the City.
The first motor-driven vehicle was purchased at a cost of $4,200 from Webb Motor Fire Apparatus Company and was placed with North Austin Fire Company #6.
The last of the volunteer companies to be organized was Rescue Hose Company #9 on May 21. Their fire hall was located on East Avenue, south of 21st Street.
During the flash floods and storms of April 1915, Firefighter Thomas Edward Quinn was killed in the line of duty on April 22 while attempting a rescue in the flood waters on Shoal Creek under West 6th Street. He was a member of North Austin #6.
Voters approved to establish a fully paid fire department in May, which began operations in June 1916 with 27 men. Clarence Woodward was appointed Fire Chief. The volunteer fire companies disbanded and the fire department renumbered its fire stations and renamed its apparatus as such:
- Austin Hook and Ladder #1 became Truck Co. 1 at Central Fire Station 1
- Washington #1 closed its station and became Engine 1 at Centrals and Colorado #2 became Hose 1 at Centrals
- Protection #3 became Engine 2 at Station 2, and Truck 2 was created
- East Austin #4 became Engine 5 at Station 5
- South Austin #5 became Engine 6 at Station 6
- North Austin #6 became Engine 3 at Station 3
- West Austin #7 became Engine 4 at Station 4
- Tenth Ward #8 became Engine 7 at Station 7
- And Rescue #9 became Engine 8 at Station 8
On July 23, 1916, the new department experienced its first major fire in the Kreisle Building. Four firefighters were seriously injured. Engine 6 Firefighter James T. Glass had his spine crushed. He lay paralyzed at Brackenridge Hospital until his death more than one year later. His badge number was “13″ and that number was permanently retired in his memory, which is why we do not have a Fire Station 13 today.
By the end of the year, there were 35 firefighters, five pieces of motor apparatus, one Chief´s car and three pieces of horse-drawn equipment. A hoseman was paid $70 per month and the operating budget for the year was $43,740.
Austin firefighters worked either a 10-hour day or a 14-hour night, seven days a week.
The fire department´s communication system consisted of two telephones, one of which was a magneto with a hand crank. People would call in a fire on the regular phone and the dispatcher would crank the magneto. There were no radios. When a fire company went out on a call, the dispatcher had no idea what was going on at the fire until somebody at the fire could get to a telephone to replay the information.
In December, Fire Chief Clarence Woodward was stricken with paralysis while fighting a fire at 2100 Pearl St. and died of his injuries a week later. Assistant Chief John Woody was named as Woodward´s replacement on February 1, 1927 and served as Fire Chief for over 30 years until October 1958.
The old bell that had called the members of the Austin Fire Department to so many fires since 1887 was removed from its tower in 1926. It had hung at the top of a tower in the rear of the old City Hall. Weighing 3,597 pounds, the bell was said to be one of the purest-toned bells ever turned out in this country. The bell was sold to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1206 E. 9th St., and still is hanging in its church tower heralding services.
Fire Station 9 at 4301 Speedway opened on August 1.
The six-story brick drill tower located on Town Lake was constructed for training purposes, at a cost of $6,200.
On October 15, South Central Fire Station 6 was opened at 1705 South Congress Avenue. Station 6 replaced the old wood frame structure that was built in 1895 to house the South Austin Fire Company # 5.
On November 20, Fire Station 2 was opened at 506 West Martin Luther King Boulevard. The original Station 2, located at 1614 Lavaca Street, was built in 1890. It housed Protection Hook and Ladder Company # 3.
In 1932 the fire department responded to 613 alarms with a total expenditure of $123,882.66.
The Fire Department continued to grow along with the City of Austin. New fire stations were constructed and older stations were remodeled.
The depression years slowed the growth of the department somewhat, but in 1938, a new Central Fire Station was constructed downtown at 401 East 5th Street and Station 10 was built and opened on the far west side of Austin at 3009 Windsor Road.
An alarm system of an entirely new design was installed in all Austin fire stations and fire apparatus. Austin was one of the first fire departments in the South to have an alarm system that featured a loud speaker system connected to its 10 stations and two-way radio communications with all apparatus, including 13 fire trucks and four official automobiles.
The personnel of the Fire Department consisted of the Fire Chief, Assistant Chiefs, District Chiefs, Captains, and Privates. The 166 men in the Department worked on 24-hour shifts changing at noon.
On April 10, Fire Station 7 at 201 Chicon St. was opened, replacing the old Tenth Ward building located at 1111 East 1st Street. The department responded to 1,246 alarms.
The Firefighters´s Relief and Retirement Law was passed by the 45th Legislature in 1937 and Austin firefighters voted to become members in 1941. This retirement system is state-approved but locally administered. Today, Austin firefighters enjoy one of the finest retirement systems in the country.
A bill authorizing Civil Service classification for firefighters and police officers was approved by the Texas Legislature. Austin voters approved the classification to become effective in May 1948. The vote passed by a 10-to-one margin. Never before or since has an election passed with a 10-to-one favor.
Shortly after Civil Service Law was voted in, Austin firefighters became organized as Local 975 of the International Fire Fighters Association. Only a few firefighters did not join. Firefighters were prohibited by law from striking, but general sentiment was that no one wanted to leave the city unprotected. The main focus of the organization was to pass amendments and improvements to the pension laws.
A building inspection program was initiated to foster fire prevention, which is still being carried out by inspectors and in-service fire companies.
World War II slowed the growth of the fire department, but in 1949 the department was recovering and beginning to make progress. Fire Station 11, located at 1605 Kinney Avenue, was completed and placed in service on May 5, 1949. Station 12, located at 2109 Hancock Drive, was completed and placed into service on June 14, 1949. At the end of the year, fire department personnel numbered 171.
For the year, the Austin Fire Department responded to 2,293 alarms.
The Austin Fire Department employed three black firefighters, the first blacks to be hired under Civil Service law in the state of Texas. The three were Willie Ray Davis, who retired as a Captain; Nathaniel H. Kindred, who died of a heart attack in 1977 while at a fire scene; and Roy D. Greene, who resigned.
Also this year, crash truck apparatus were placed at newly completed Station 14, 4305 Airport Boulevard, to provide fire coverage for the Municipal Airport complex. Fire Station 14 was completed and placed in service Sept. 26, 1952, providing firefighting and crash rescue operations for incidents involving aircraft. Fire personnel and equipment served the airport operateing under Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.
Station 15 at 829 Airport Boulevard was opened on February 24.
Beginning in 1954, the Fire Prevention Division had a new job and title to add to its line of command. The City Council voted to amend the Civil Service Ordinance to create the new Chief Inspector position.
On February 1, Fire Station 3 at 201 West 30th St. was opened. The new station cost an estimated $66,000. Station 3 replaced the old fire hall at 3002 Guadalupe Street that was built in 1906 and housed North Austin Hose Co. # 6.
On February 7, Fire Station 16 at 7000 Reese Lane was opened.
Robert H. Dickerson was appointed to the position of Fire Chief on June 19. He remained in the position until March 15, 1968.
Fire Station 17 opened at 702 West Ben White Boulevard. In 1990, a new Station 17 opened on South First Street. Old Station 17 was razed to make way for the Ben White Freeway.
During the Cuban Crisis, interest in Civil Defense increased in Austin and public fallout shelters were designated throughout the city. In 1964, City Manager W. T. Williams was appointed Director of Civil Defense. The Fire Chief was designated Chief of the Fire and Rescue Services, which included agencies assigned to this emergency service. The Fire Department´s role in the civil emergency operation was to provide emergency fire prevention, fire control, rescue support, and facility decontamination support. In 1973, the Civil Defense operation was merged into the Fire Department.
Joe Villareal was the first Hispanic firefighter employed by the Austin Fire Department. He served until his retirement on January 1, 1992.
On January 15, Fire Station 18 at 6311 Berkman Drive was opened.
In March, the City´s Fire Prevention Division began operating from the newly completed building at 1621 Festival Beach Road. Located just east of the Interregional Bridge on the north shore of Town Lake, the 10,000-square foot, two-level structure cost $170,000.
Austin accepted delivery of a unique piece of firefighting equipment, a $50,000 Snorkel truck. It featured a basket-type platform on a jointed hydraulic boom that could be raised 75 feet in the air, extended 39 feet horizontally, and rotated in a complete circle in either direction. Straight or fog type water streams could be pumped at a rate of 1,100 gallons per minute from a four-way maneuverable nozzle on the platform.
On October 1, Fire Station 19 was opened at 5211 Balcones Drive.
Ed S. Kirkham was appointed Fire Chief on Sept. 27. He resigned from the position in Sept. 1982.
In March, Fire Station 5 at 1201 Webberville Rd. was opened. This station replaced the 1930´s era fire hall at 1005 Lydia St., which stood on the same lot that housed East Austin Fire Co. No. 4´s original building.
Firefighters received new uniforms consisting of navy blue slacks, light blue shirts, ties and Eisenhower jackets. Officers wore white shirts and caps to set them apart. After being outfitted with new uniforms, Austin firefighters were considered by many to be the best-dressed firefighters in the state.
Fire department applicants underwent 12 weeks of training before being admitted to the force. The first six weeks involved classroom training in which they were taught standard approaches for responding to and fighting fires. Fire department discipline and basic Civil Service were added to the compulsory curriculum.
The second six-week program was on-the-job training, where the potential firefighter was assigned to a truck and worked under observation.
A new airport crash truck was purchased for $68,000. It held 1,500 gallons of water for making foam. The truck could empty it´s tank in five minutes at a range of 150 feet.
The Salvation Army Canteen, staffed by Claude and Leona Rutledge on a volunteer basis, began responding to major alarms to provide firefighters with refreshments, cool towels, a place to relax, and words of encouragement. The Rutledges quickly were adopted by the firefighters and continued to provide this most appreciated service until 1987. Claude Rutledge died Sept. 13, 1995. Several fire trucks lead the procession at his funeral.
The City Council recommended closing the station located at 43rd and Speedway, but a delegation of Hyde Park residents descended upon the council and the plans were canceled. This same scenario has been repeated two times since.
In February, Fire Station 8 at 8989 Research Boulevard was opened. It was originally located at 21st and East Avenue, which was the home of Rescue Hose Company # 9, the last volunteer company to be formed (May 21, 1913).
On June 17, Truck 19 Captain James L. Buford died in the line of duty while attempting to rescue a 15-year-old boy, who also drowned, in the Shoal Creek flood waters. The fire training tower on Town Lake was later named in his honor.
Fire Dispatcher Lt. Ernie Simmons died of cardiac arrest at the dispatch console in the annex at Central Fire Station.
Willie Ray Davis was promoted to the rank of Captain, the first black firefighter to achieve the Captain´s badge in the Austin Fire Department, as well as in the state of Texas.
The Fire Department accepted delivery of three diesel pumpers and one diesel aerial ladder truck. This was the first diesel fire apparatus to be purchased for firefighting in Austin. In the following years, all new engines and trucks were diesel-fueled.
AFD began training in its new six-story fire drill tower located at 517 South Pleasant Valley Road. On Jan. 23, Fire Station 20 at 6601 Manchaca Road was opened.
On February 26, Fire Station 21 at 4201 Spicewood Springs Road was opened.
On April 3, Fire Station 22 at 5309 East Riverside Drive was opened.
May 24 was declared Firefighter Recognition Day by Austin Mayor Jeffrey M. Friedman.
The Hyde Park neighborhood again waged a successful fight against the City´s recommended closing of Fire Station 9.
It was decided that Emergency Medical Services would be a separate City department beginning January 1, 1976. Prior to this decision, Austin Ambulance was the franchise-holder for ambulance service within the city.
The Fire Department began active recruitment of women to serve as firefighters.
Austin covered 104 square miles and had a population of 300,000 people. There were 21 fire stations with a total of 459 personnel. AFD was organized into five divisions: Combat, Airport Firefighting, Training, Fire Prevention and Communications.
Equipment in 1976 consisted of 25 pumpers, seven aerial ladder trucks, one snorkel, four squad cars, three crash trucks, three boats and 30 automobiles. The operating budget for 1974-75 was $6,528,920.
On Jan. 5, Austin´s first woman firefighter, Lucinda Hough, was appointed. She served more than two years, resigning in August, 1978. Since that time women have become an integral part of the department.
On March 4, Engine 7 Specialist Nathaniel Kindred, one of the first black firefighters hired in the department, died of a heart attack at the scene of a fire.
A “9-1-1″ emergency number system was proposed by City Council Member Ron Mullen and approved by the Council.
On April 1, Fire Station 23 was opened at 1330 East Rundberg Lane.
The City Council approved a project to install a carillon and restore the old fire training tower on West 1st Street (Caesar Chavez) near the shores of Town Lake. Sponsored by the Austin Chapter of Women in Construction, the $45,000 project was launched with a pledge of $30,000 from Mrs. Effie R. Kitchens, whose late husband built the tower when he entered the construction business in 1931. This tower is now called Buford Tower in honor of the late Captain James L. Buford, who died in the line of duty on June 17, 1972.
In April, 1978, flames devoured a downtown office supply warehouse. Two firefighters were hospitalized for smoke inhalation in the three-alarm fire at Abel Stationers, 401 Colorado St. The same business was hit by a second three-alarm fire at its new location (910 E. 5th St.) later that same year.
In May Geno Chavarria became the first Hispanic to promote to Captain at AFD and in November, Betty Swint was appointed as Austin´s first black female firefighter.
On June 1, Fire Station 25 at 5228 Duval Road opened.
On July 20, Fire Station 24 at 5811 Nuckols Crossing Road opened.
The Memorial Day flood of May 24 claimed 13 lives and sent firefighters into rushing currents to rescue 31 people from cars and houses that later were swept away. AFD was stressed to the point of not having any additional equipment or personnel to respond to calls. Because of that flood, the Office of Emergency Management began to focus more on its response to natural disasters, particularly floods.
The Fire Department upgraded its rescue boats and equipment, and offered additional training in swift water rescue to all of its members.
The Memorial Day flood also led to the creation of AFD´s Dive Rescue Team. Eighteen members volunteered, led by Terry Hill (now a Rescue Captain[ret]). Divers provided their own equipment and began training. With increased confidence in the Dive Team, it gradually became formalized. Originally there were 12 active members placed all over the city. If a call came in, they responded if they were able to get away from their companies. It was not until 1983 that the Dive Team was housed at Central Station. Later, a second team was established at Station 31.
Austin firefighters began wearing new fire retardant turnouts made of Nomex, replacing the old cotton canvas turnouts.
On December 2, Fire Station 26 was opened at 6702 Wentworth Drive.
Austin Fire Department moved its Dispatch office from Fire Operations at 401 East 5th Street into the new centralized communication center located at the Austin Police Headquarters at 715 East 8th Street. The new equipment and radios greatly assisted incident communications.
Three new Rescue units were placed into operation. The $15,000 trucks, designed by Austin firefighters, gave the department capabilities it never had before, such as scene illumination.
Bill Roberts was appointed to the position of Fire Chief on March 7, 1983.
A series of four fraternity fires plagued the University of Texas, including one on December 11th that was caused by a discarded cigarette and resulted in one fatality and six injuries.
A major fire struck the Capitol Building and threatened to consume the entire structure due to the many void spaces created throughout the past 100 years. The fire began in the Lt. Governor´s private room where his daughter and her friends were staying. The fire resulted in one civilian fatality. Austin firefighters successfully stopped the flames just prior to it penetrating the Texas Senate chambers despite the difficulty due to void spaces and hidden ceilings.
The Fire Department implemented a physical fitness program for department personnel. The purpose of the program was to create an awareness of the need for a healthy lifestyle and to improve the quality of life for department personnel.
A High Volume Smoke Removal System, known to Austin firefighters as the Smokebuster, was placed into operation in March.
AFD´s Hazardous Materials Response Team was created in response to new federal regulations requiring fire departments to plan and train for hazardous materials emergencies. AFD HazMat Teams were formed from the crews of Austin´s three Rescue units and led by Battalion Chief Richard Brumbelow. Training was sought outside of the Department and eventually included the crews from the engines at each of the respective stations. By 1989, hazmat technician training was done in-house as it is today.
On July 18, a worker died in a trench collapse at a sewage plant in east Austin. This incident, along with an incident in 1986, led to the Department´s acquisition of trench rescue equipment and training for its members.
On August 16, Station 27 opened at 5401 McCarty Lane.
The Dive Team unveiled its new Hovercraft, designed to travel across land or water.
On December 13, a train derailment outside of Round Rock sparked a huge chemical fire, forcing 5,000 people to evacuate and requiring mutual aid assistance from AFD.
On January 22, approximately 2,200 gallons of hydrochloric acid spilled from a ruptured tank in the Lockheed Plant. The incident caused area residents to seek information about the chemicals stored at the plant and their potential dangers. The neighborhood also became active in trying to get the plant moved.
On June 29, a six-alarm blaze gutted a nightclub on Riverside Drive and damaged three other businesses. Approximately 160 firefighters and 40 trucks battled the blaze.
Another three fire stations opened in 1988: on February 28, Fire Station 32 opened at 2804 Montebello Road. On August 15, Fire Station 33 opened at 9409 Bluegrass Drive, and September 26, Fire Station 31 opened at 5507 FM 2222.
In April, the Office of Emergency Management became an extension of the Austin Fire Department. Formerly an extension of the Austin Police Department, the Office assists victims and agencies in the event of natural disaster or any extended, large-scale incident.
On September 15, Fire Station 17 opened at 4128 South 1st Street, replacing the station located at 702 West Ben White Boulevard that had been built in 1961.
In November, four stations piloted different models of semiautomatic defibrillators on cardiac patients. Now, all Fire Department personnel are trained in the use of semiautomatic defibrillators and the units are carried on all engines and trucks.
In October, the Austin Fire Department received the Austin Quality Award for “significant progress in the pursuit of total quality.” That same month, the department received national recognition for being a model department in the area of fire prevention.
Also in October, Becky Malone became the first female to promote to Captain at AFD.
The Christmas floods kept the department busy during the holidays. On Dec. 20, AFD responded to 20 calls throughout the night and activated the Emergency Operations Center, a composite of multiple city and county agencies designed to act as a central coordination point during major emergency incidents. Calls ranged from a construction barge that was free floating on Town Lake to rescuing families trapped in cars. This incident was the first critical test of the Emergency Operations Center since the Office of Emergency Management was incorporated into the Fire Department.
In April, Austin began implementing its Canine Accelerant Detection Program. “Nickie,” a black Labrador, assists fire investigators in determining whether fires are intentionally set.
In May, the Water Department gave the Fire Department money for the purchase of two inflatable rescue boats and a pontoon boat for the Dive Rescue Team. In exchange, the Fire Department agreed to maintain 2,000 hydrants citywide.
In June, a new Aircraft Fire Rescue Unit (AFR 4) was put into commission with two times the capacity of the older units. The new unit was paid for by the Federal Aviation Agency and the City Aviation Department.
In August the citizens of Austin voted to approved $8.76 million in bonds to build and staff four new multi-company fire stations. Also in August, the department purchased three thermal imaging cameras to assist in firefighting and overhaul operations. The cameras initially were carried on each of the Manpower units and now are carried on the Rescue units and some truck companies.
The Austin Fire Department won the Greater Austin Quality Award for Highest Achievement.
Also in October, Chief James Ash was asked to form a Rope Rescue Team and serve as its coordinator. Station 32 was selected as the location due to its proximity to the Barton Creek Greenbelt. Volunteers were trained and assigned. The team since has grown to include trench rescue operations and now is referred to as the Technical Rescue Team. The Austin Fire Department now has more than 25 certified Technical Rescue Team (TRT) members who are assigned to Station 17.
At the beginning of the year, AFD began training with its new Flashover Survival Training Container. The Flashover unit was replaced in 2000.
On March 13, a fire at the Holly Street Power Plant sparked community concern. The department responded by designing a proposal to provide human services at emergency incidents that later became the Community Services Sector included in the Incident Command System. An emergency evacuation guide for the Holly Street Area also was developed.
In July, Greg Keyes became the first African-American to promote to Battalion Chief at AFD.
In January, Chief Bill Roberts retired. Robin Paulsgrove, then an assistant chief, was appointed Fire Chief. He was the first Austin firefighter to head the Department in more than 25 years. He officially was sworn in Feb. 11, 1994.
Also this year, the fire service lost its exemption to the Federal Age Discrimination Employment Act, allowing people 40 years or older to apply for the job. In January 1995, Bob Dameron and Roger Holtz became the first cadets over the age of 40 to be hired with the loss of the exemption.
In March a high rise alarm at the University of Texas Welch Hall chemistry laboratory turned into a hazmat alarm and then escalated to a five-alarm fire when fire combined with hazardous materials to create explosions.
AFD demonstrated its commitment to the Fire Prevention mission by setting about to train all lieutenants in the department to the State Fire Inspector level. Currently, AFD conducts the 180-plus hour training class once every year. To date all AFD lieutenants are trained and certified. The annual training class continues today with newly promoted or to be promoted lieutenants as the target audience. Other members of the department also are encouraged to receive the training and certification.
Station 34 was opened on March 5 at 11205 Harris Branch Parkway. It closed 10 months later when residents in that neighborhood voted to de-annex from the city.
Tom Lerma became the first Hispanic to promote to Battalion Chief in August.
In September, Station 35 opened at 5500 Burleson Road.
The new training facility at 4800 Shaw Lane opened for operation. The facility was dedicated to Fire Chief Bill Roberts to commemorate his 10 years of service to the department and the city.
Captain Paul Maldonado was appointed Assistant Chief in October, making him the highest-ranking Hispanic to serve in AFD.
An In-Service Inspections program was initiated. Today each operations company conducts 70 fire code inspections per year. The In-Service program focuses on high fire risk multi-family maintenance inspections.
In 1995 AFD companies made 30,469 runs.
In 1996 the State of Texas adopted the U.S. Dept. of Transportation revised EMT curriculum prompting AFD Command Staff to make EMT-B the minimum level of certification for the department. A department-wide transition program was initiated. By May of 1998, all AFD firefighters were trained with EMT-B certification.
On Feb. 15, Austin Bergstrom International Airport Fire Station opened for cargo operations, staffed with a structural fire engine.
On Oct. 19, a six-alarm fire at the University of Texas Welch Hall was the last straw in a long series of fires, hazmat alarms, and chemical spills that had put AFD firefighters at risk due to lack of safety precautions (the University is not required to conform to the City of Austin Fire Code). The fire resulted in Fire Chief Robin Paulsgrove publicly criticizing the University for lack of safety at the hall, which prompted a meeting with AFD and UT officials to address the problems.
On Dec. 13, the three-story Centennial Condominiums occupying three-quarters of a city block, burned to the ground during a six-alarm fire. AFD requested a National Response Team from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to assist with the fire investigation. Nearly 30 federal, state and local investigators participated. It was determined that a stray ember from an earlier dumpster fire had lodged in the garbage chute and smoldered for hours before erupting into flames. Firefighters who responded to the dumpster fire earlier had extinguished the fire, used a thermal imaging camera, and remained on scene for two hours to ensure the fire was out. Lack of draft stops contributed to the rapid spread of the fire, which left nearly 200 students homeless.
Captain James L. Buford, who died in the line of duty in 1972, received the AFD Medal of Honor.
Chief Lionel Bess was appointed Assistant Chief in September, making him the highest-ranking African-American to serve in AFD.
Station 36 at 400 Ralph Ablanedo Drive went into operation on October 12.
After three and a half years as Fire Chief, Robin Paulsgrove retired from AFD to become the City of Arlington´s Fire Chief. AFD Assistant Chief Gary Warren was appointed Fire Chief.
The Insurance Services Office (ISO) upgraded AFD´s rating from 3 to 2.
AFD purchased its first Quint, which has capabilities of both an engine and a ladder truck and is assigned to Station 28.
On Oct. 17, torrential rains pounded Central Texas. More than 7,000 people were displaced from the Austin and San Antonio areas and 14 people died statewide. Robert Mueller Airport reported 6.24 inches of rain in Austin. AFD responded to 69 flood calls using a total of 110 units.
Station 34 at 10041 Lake Creek Pkwy. became operational.
Station 41 (originally opened in 1995 as Station 34) at 11205 Harris Branch Parkway opened.
AFR Operations at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport were closed. The Austin Bergstrom International Airport officially opened for passenger travel on May 23. Special Operations, which now oversees the Hazmat Team, the Technical Rescue Team and the Dive Team, moved to Station 14 on Airport Blvd.
Three stations went into operation in the second half of the calendar year: Station 38 at 10111 Anderson Mill Road (August 17), Station 39 at 7701 River Place Boulevard (December 14), and Station 37 at 8660 State Highway 71 (December 21).
As of Jan 1, the full purpose area of Austin was 225.6 square miles (219.1 square miles in Travis County and 6.5 square miles in Williamson County). The full purpose population of Austin stood at 619,038.
In March the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) was used for the first time to determine the latest cadet class. Of the 144 candidates, 120 passed. The CPAT uses eight job-specific tasks to test the physical ability of candidates.
On Jan. 5, a three-alarm apartment fire on Lakeshore Blvd. resulted in three firefighter injuries, including a life-threatening injury to Capt. John Butz. Capt. Butz, who was rescued from the burning apartment by Firefighter Alphonse Dellert, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 53 percent of his body. He spent nearly two months recovering in Brooke Army Medical Center. Firefighter Dellert received Firehouse Magazine´s highest firefighter award for his rescue of fellow firefighter Butz for the year 2000.
In November the Austin Fire Department won the Highest Achievement Award from the Greater Austin Quality Council. AFD became the first organization to be recognized with this distinction twice, having also won the honor in 1992.
On November 15 torrential rain and a tornado swept through Austin resulting in numerous swift water rescue emergencies throughout Austin and Central Texas. Several notable rescues on Shoal Creek and Onion Creek resulted in award winning rescues by Austin firefighters.
Fire Chief Gary Warren retired from his position. Asst. Chief Jim Evans was appointed Acting Fire Chief and held the position for over a year.
On April 23, 2005 the Austin Fire Museum officially opened in the annex at Fire Station 1.
In February Corpus Christi Fire Chief J.J. Adame was appointed Austin´s Fire Chief.