Austin Fire Department seeing more residential high-rise fires

The Austin Fire Department said firefighters have responded to two high-rise fires in the last two weeks. 

In both cases, the fires started after someone threw away flammable materials that were not properly extinguished. 

As Austin’s skyline becomes more and more crowded, the potential for a deadly fire becomes more and more likely. 

“We train and, as Austin has added high-rises at the incredible rate that they're adding them, we've gotten much more proficient at high-rise firefighting procedures,” said Austin Fire Department Division Chief Palmer Buck.  

The City of Austin has hired more firefighters to help keep up with the growth. 

“We've added that fourth firefighter to every one of our fire trucks in the city. The City of Austin and the citizens of Austin saw the need for that and provided for that,” Buck said. 

While the number of condos, hotels and apartments with a view grows, so has the number of fires AFD has to fight on higher floors. 

“It makes it even more complicated when we see it 50 stories above ground,” said Buck.   

The Austin Fire Department already has protocols in place in the event of a high-rise fire. 

“With high rise fires, we throw a lot more equipment, a lot more people at it. They're very difficult when you consider the fact that we're having to pack everything up ten, twenty, thirty stories up in the air,” Buck said.  

Firefighters said most fires are caused by human error, so the more people that live in a particular building, the higher the risk. 

“It comes down to one thing, people. When people were working in the old high-rises, we had where it was just office space, not a lot of problems, but we see most of our fires and our fire problems are people doing activities of daily living,” said Buck. 

Firefighters start at a disadvantage when fighting flames on a higher floor. That's why so many firefighters respond to those calls.

“We start throwing all these resources into that because we know we're going to need all that equipment and that personnel, primarily the personnel, to take care of the event,” Buck said.  

For now, Buck said the downtown area isn't short staffed, but, unless the city's building boom slows down, that won't be the case for long. 

“As density increases we will eventually reach a point where they need more firefighters to keep up,” said Buck. 

Fortunately, the majority of tall residential buildings in the city are newly constructed and, therefore, have to meet current fire codes.

However, if the building was built before sprinkler systems were required, fire experts said a fire can spread very quickly.

AFD suggests those who live in a high rise get familiar with their building, especially where the nearest two exits are located.