Austin Fire Department says 'Tollhouse' fire station improving response times

The Austin Fire Department affectionately calls it "The Tollhouse." It's a two-story TxDOT facility on State Highway 130 that's really just been sitting there.

"This building was not really being used but a lot of desks and office equipment were in the building," said AFD Division Chief Tony Haden.

Former Austin firefighter and current Mayor Pro-Tem Delia Garza has been working for years to get more fire stations built in the city because some areas are under-served, her district included.

"The issue that popped up in this part of town was that they were experiencing higher insurance rates because they didn't have a fire station close to them," Garza said.  

So just around the corner, a permanent fire station for the Del Valle-Moore's Crossing area is under construction. It's expected to be finished next summer.

"Finding a facility to be able to meet this need was always going to be tough. And short of being able to just build a station overnight which is impossible, we were on a timeline," Haden said.  

"I'm grateful that in this last budget we were able to convince at least a majority of my colleagues that we needed to start services here as soon as possible," Garza said. 

So that's where "The Tollhouse" comes in.

The Fire Department says they had about two weeks to convert the facility into a temporary working fire station. It opened up on October 1.

AFD says since it's been open, response times in the surrounding area have improved by about two-and-a-half minutes.

"It's made a difference on some important calls, whether those are cardiac events or fires," Haden said.

"The Tollhouse" has beds, a shower, kitchen, an alert system, and below ground is a fitness room and gear storage for firefighters.

"Before it was all on the TxTags when you could actually go through a booth and pay, that employee would use these tunnels to gain access to those toll booths," Haden said.

The Tollhouse may be small, but Garza says that might be a benefit.

"I've always felt those crews are kind of closer to each other because they're like physically closer to each other at their stations but it creates that teamwork that's always great amongst fire crews," Garza said.