Updated: Jan 2, 2022
Austin Fire Department History
Austin Fire Department established in 1841 as a seven-man fire protection group sanctioned by the City Council. The group was not formally trained or equipped to function as a traditional fire department during this era and fire protection services were considered inadequate for the time period. It wasn’t until 1858 that the City organized Hook N’ Ladder Company #1 with a Seagrave trussed-ladder truck equipped with a rear tiller and drawn by a team of three specially-trained horses. To apply water on a fire, AFD members initially used wooden buckets, though shortly after they converted to the preferred roundbottom leather buckets. At that time, the City still lacked a formal method for alerting company members of a fire and had to rely on citizens calling out “FIRE!” followed by pistol shots and the ringing of church bells. In 1866, the City Council appointed Austin’s first career Fire Chief, C.F. Millett, who served three years in the position. That same year the City Council authorized the installation of eight cisterns expressly for the purpose of providing water for firefighting efforts. In 1868, the department received the first “fire engine” which was pulled by hand from the fire hall to the location of the fire. Over its 160-year history, the department has maintained steady growth along with the city, adding stations, apparatus, and personnel commensurate with call volume, service demands, and industry changes.
The Austin Fire Department of today is a diametrically opposite organization from the one formed in 1841. On January 1, 2017, AFD received a Public Protection Classification (PPC) rating of “1” from the Insurance Services Office (ISO), which is the highest rating a fire department can receive. To put this into context as it relates to Texas, there are 2,555 fire departments in the State of Texas. Of these, 14 have an ISO Class1 rating, which places AFD in the top-tier of professional fire service organizations in Texas as well as nationally, as there are only 411 fire departments in the U.S. which have achieved this rating. Services Provided Besides the primary mission of structural firefighting, AFD provides response resources to the full spectrum of emergencies typically found under fire departments nationally, such as response to:
• Traffic/Motor vehicle collisions
• Hazardous materials response at the Technician/Specialist level
• Confined space rescue
• Swift/Flood water rescue to include a Dive Team response
• Airfield rescue firefighting (ARFF)
• High-Angle/Technical rope rescue
• Explosive/Bomb Squad response
• Cause and origin investigation, including accelerant detection K-9 support
• Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) firefighting
Each of these disciplines requires response personnel to have extensive training, continuing education, and certifications to operate in such situations. Every category listed represents a major operational, administrative, and fiscal commitment by the department to provide response resources for an all-hazards delivery service model. Fire departments that provide these services do so based on needs within the community, due to the number of responses annually to each emergency type listed, and on a community needs assessment analysis. Where AFD dramatically differs from all major metropolitan fire departments in Texas, and to a large extent with those across the U.S., is in their approach and commitment to EMS (medical responses). According to the AFD 2020 Annual Report, the department responded to a total of 89,797 requests for service, of which 62,611, or approximately 70%, were EMS (medical) in nature.