Former Austin fire chief Bill Roberts passes away at 85

A former Austin fire chief passed away earlier this month, according to the department.

Bill Roberts, who served as AFD's chief from 1983 to 1994, passed away at 85 on January 16.

"Our deepest sympathies to Bill’s family. We are forever grateful to him for all he did for our department, as well as the fire service as a whole. He was a pioneer and one of a kind," the department said in a release. "Rest in peace, Bill; we'll see you on the top floor."

AFD Chief Bill Roberts (Austin Fire Department)

Born in 1938 in Deport, Texas, Roberts served in the Texas Air National Guard from 1960-1966 as a Crash/Fireman and was employed with Municipal Fire Services/Dallas Fire Department for 25 years, reaching the post of Assistant Chief of Administration. He was also nationally recognized for designing and implementing their EMS system, the first paramedic system in Texas, says AFD.

Roberts was hired in March 1983 as Austin fire chief, where he remained until 1994. While at AFD, he implemented the High-Volume Smoke Removal System, known as the "Smoke Buster", put into operation in 1984, says AFD. The system, a giant fan placed onto the back of a truck whose assigned driver responded to every fire in the city, was the brainchild of Chief Roberts; it revolutionized the concept of positive pressure ventilation and influenced the fire service nationwide.

Chief Roberts was also responsible for launching AFD’s reputation as an early adopter of innovation in the fire service, including the Personal Alert Safety Systems (PASS devices), Thermal Imaging Cameras (TICs), vehicular command posts, and fire engine deck guns, as well as the development of the donning valve for Scott AirPak breathing apparatus. Additionally, at a time when three-person staffing was the norm, Roberts implemented "manpower units" in order to bring more firefighters to fires, says AFD.

Roberts was also on the board of the National Fire Academy, a member of the National Fire Chief's Association, a member of Mensa International, included in the publication "Who's Who in America", and a long-standing member of Rotary International.

In 1994, Chief Roberts retired to the mountains of Western North Carolina, where he lived until his passing. In 1995, the new public safety training facility at 4800 Shaw Lane opened for operation and was dedicated to Chief Roberts to honor his years of service.

He is survived by his daughter, Renee Burks, of Hamilton, Texas, and one grandchild. Private services will be held.

If you would like to leave a note for the Roberts family, you can do so via the funeral home’s online portal.