AFD part of state wildfire response team

Shift change at AFD Station 1 Thursday afternoon, brought in a new crew of Austin firefighters. Team members, and others on duty across Austin, have no idea what the next call will bring.

"We will push forward and back each other up depending the kind of emergency,” said AFD Division Chief Palmer Buck.

Trips beyond the city limits and into Travis County are possible, according to Division Chief Buck. It’s because of what's called automatic response dispatching.

"The closest trucks goes, if we need, depending on the situation, send five trucks, eight trucks, what have you, to mitigate an incident,” said Buck. 

Austin fire fighters also work incidents like the recent fires in Llano County as part of what’s called a Mutual Aid Agreement. It’s a first response approach. In what would be called the Llano 308 fire, more than 20 different departments responded to help the smaller group of volunteers, according to Garry Barney with the Texas A&M Forest Service. 

"It has taxed the community; it has actually drained Llano County of all its fire resources,” said Barney. 

The extra help from Austin and other fire departments gave the locals a much needed break from the fire line. When a brief gas shortage took place the teamwork even bought some time to rally residents, keeping the brush trucks rolling.

"Those local VFDs are the community, and the first line of defense. One of the things is, people need to support that; is time with that local VFD, and assisting them financially if they are able to,” said Barney.

When fires like those in Llano get big the state usually takes the lead. Some of those who stay to cut fire breaks may be from Austin. AFD is one of the largest fire departments in the nation to have all crew members certified to work wild-land fires. A few AFD lockers remain empty, because four Austin fire fighters are still out helping the state battle two separate grass fires here in central Texas. A uniformed approach to training is making all of this possible.

"When the state orders up, and says I need an engine boss and some wildfire hand crews they are getting what they ordered, people that have been through and understand the training, they speak the same language,” said AFD Division Chief Buck.

Prescribed burns, like one a year ago in Hays County, provide training opportunities for area fire teams. The exercise, it turns out, was a glimpse of what was to come.