AUSTIN, TEXAS (KXAN) — Williamson County and Travis County fire departments are getting closer to getting people help faster during an emergency.
City leaders and local jurisdictions are working on an automatic aid agreement between the two counties. Automatic aid is when the closest firefighters would respond, regardless of city limits, when it seems like the most viable solution.
Austin’s fire chief is ready to give the green light, but the Austin City Council decided Thursday to wait a couple of more weeks before giving it a vote.
“Firefighting means everything to me,” said Pflugerville Fire Chief, Ron Mullenberg. “I live this business.”
For decades, Ron Mullenberg has lived in Plugerville and has worked as a firefighter. He’s seen the city rapidly grown into a metropolitan community.
“We’ve gone from an all volunteer fire department to an all career department,” said Mullenberg.
Pflugerville, within Travis County lines, currently helps out neighboring cities like Hutto, however, Pflugerville can only provide so-called “mutual aid” upon request.
“If we had automatic aid within Pflugerville, then they will get that same tone at the same time,” said Hutto Assistant Fire Chief, Rob Bocanegra.
Rob Bocanegra is Hutto’s Assistant Fire Chief. Hutto says keeping up with the growing population of 45,000 people has become nearly impossible.
“We have always been behind,” said Bocanegra.
One thing standing in the way of an agreement is defining a universal operating system; a protocol firefighters would take when responding to specific emergencies.
“We literally have a hodge podge of systems,” said President of Austin’s Firefighters Association, Bob Nicks. “The system they use is absurd. The lieutenant maintains control of the scene, even though he’s inside fighting the fire.
The automatic aid agreement would include all of Williamson County EDS’s, Leander, Cedar Park, Round Rock and Georgetown. Austin’s Fire Chief says this is all the more reason to get all jurisdictions on the same page and bring down response times.
“With the assistance of the ESD’s we get there in 9 minutes and 11 seconds without the support of the ESD’s we may get there within 12, 13, 14 minutes,” said Austin’s Fire Chief.
City leaders still need to work out how dispatch will operate under this automatic aid agreement with both Williamson and Travis counties. Council is expected to decide on the agreement by December 5th.