The Austin Fire Department has been working toward four-person crews since the 1990s. Now a new city ordinance could make such staffing the law.
Mark D. Wilson
December 13, 2018
Austin, TX, Fire Department
Austin City Council members on Thursday will consider an ordinance that would require most of the city’s fire vehicles to be staffed with a minimum of four people, a move decades in the making that supporters say will improve safety and efficiency at the Fire Department.
The ordinance would essentially bring into law a policy that the Fire Department has already been implementing to make sure that first responders are able to act immediately during a critical fire incident.
The city began working toward four-person crews in the early 1990s.
Austin fire union President Bob Nicks said council members passed an aspirational resolution roughly 10 years ago that called for making four-person staffing the standard by 2019.
With the help of a grant in 2012, the department reached the goal earlier than expected.
“The ordinance kind of ensures that we stay there,” Nicks said. “We discussed the importance of it with council, and they decided that it is important enough to make it a law.”
The rule is meant to keep firefighters safer, but it also allows them to spring into action more quickly during a fire.
Nicks said state law forbids firefighters from entering a structure that is on fire with only three firefighters. Without four-person staffing, a three-person crew could roll up and be forced to wait for additional units to arrive before getting to work, which could result in more lives and property being lost.
While the department has been running four-person crews for several years, staffing shortages over previous years led to concerns that the practice might not have been sustainable.
In August 2017, the council approved a $3.5 million budget increase to cover overtime expenses amid a 124-person deficit.
The Fire Department currently has 91 vacancies, but around 80 cadets are moving through the academy and expected to graduate in early 2019, Nicks said.
“We are at a point where we are getting caught up and we believe we will be able to maintain it going forward,” he said.
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