Chicken-egg debate brewing over Williamson, Travis counties automatic aid agreement


WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — There’s a chicken and egg debate brewing over Thursday’s Austin City Council meeting.

It’s a decision over whether to go forward with an automatic aid agreement between Austin Fire, Travis County EDSs and Williamson County agencies.

The deal would send the closest firefighters to cover any emergency, regardless of city limits, which would speed up the response times.

The question right now is whether coordinated dispatch and operating systems should come first.

“If I’m having a heart attack, I don’t care what patch is on that sleeve,” said Austin’s Fire Chief Joel Baker.

Its been a back-and-forth battle between Austin’s fire leaders and its labor union.

“There are many reasons to make sure we get it at the front end,” said Austin Fire Association President Bob Nicks.

The sticking points include sending firefighters to places like Georgetown, which Nicks says is something that should be studied first, since it’s never been done before.

In addition, Austin is launching a dispatch study at the beginning of January. Right now, Williamson and Travis counties operate under different dispatch technologies.

“Why would this not be included before we start signing an agreement and shoehorning us into a certain way of operating?” asked Nicks.

The fire association is most worried about the lack of a universal operating system between two agencies.

“This debate between the Austin system and the non-Austin system only applies in the event that there is a structure fire,” said Austin Council Member Jimmy Flannigan. “Which is less than 1% of all the 911 calls.”

Council member Jimmy Flannigan wants the agreement now to cover areas where response times have been as high as 20 minutes. Austin’s Fire Chief agrees, saying there is enough protection for firefighter’s in place and the rest will be ironed out quickly.

“Buzzwords, scare tactics, firefighter safety. The baby is going to die,” said Chief Joel Baker. “I can’t deny that there will be times AFD will respond in those EDS’s more than they will respond to us. Likewise, they can’t deny that in some areas of the city, they’ll respond more to our areas than they will to theirs.”

The Public Safety Commission ultimately recommended the council delay the decision yet again. Austin’s Fire Department pointed out that they’ve been trying to hash this out for almost two years already.

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