Referred to as an overlay district because it basically replicates the boundaries of the existing ESD No. 8 throughout the southwestern quadrant of Travis County, the district has helped increase emergency response times and brought about new personnel, according to Pedernales Fire Department Lt. Justin O’Baugh.
From adding more resources directly to Lake Travis to opening stations for 24-hour response, acquiring higher trained medical staff and purchasing new fire engines for better highway responses, O’Baugh said the two ESDs have helped the PFD step up operations and community public safety efforts in recent months.
One major improvement comes from the moving of Station No. 802 on Hwy. 71 in April to a better strategic location 1 mile east of the old station. That relocation, combined with the fact that all three stations are now open for 24-hour response—prior to January only two of the department’s three stations were—has helped with an overall improvement of the district.
O’Baugh said those and other strategic operations initiatives have helped broaden and reduce emergency response times. Those initiatives include the recent donation in May of a slip at the Barton Creek Lakeside Marina on Lake Travis, at which PFD has two personal watercraft.
“When we did have to deploy the jet skis in the past, it involved taking them with a truck and then putting them in the water,” he said. “It was a process that ... there were a lot of moving parts and [it wasn’t] the most efficient.”
Several improvement initiatives have also taken place or are underway at Lake Travis Fire Rescue, which, as of December, has six fully operational stations throughout the Lake Travis area, from Hamilton Pool Road up to Hudson Bend.
LTFR Chief Robert Abbott said a number of new departmental pursuits have yielded massive benefits to the Lake Travis community.
One of the most impactful upgrades to LTFR has been the addition of Station No. 606 at 17304 Hamilton Pool Road south of Hwy. 71.
Among many other features, that station houses a brush truck, an engine company and has a minimum staffing level of four personnel per day.
“With the addition of [Station] 606 opening up, we have that area of Hamilton pool that was underserved for a long time that is covered now, in addition to looking down Hwy. 71 toward Pedernales,” Abbott said. “So, right off the bat, response times came down to the immediate area, like [the] Rocky Creek, Hamilton Pool, Belvedere and Provence areas.”
The department has also received a new fire engine to replace the one at the station in the Hudson Bend area; a new $1.4 million ladder truck is on order; and LTFR is awaiting the arrival of a new vehicle called a rehabilitation unit—basically a mid-sized bus that has been appropriated into a mobile station for firefighters working at emergency incidents.
As an example of its usefulness, Abbott cited a recent 106-degree day in the Lake Travis area.
“If we had a fire during that time, our firefighters would be out in the heat,” he said. “The rehab [unit] on scene is important so we can either send them back to the station, or just to general safety [in] an area where they can cool off and get some hydration.”
Other improvements for the department include the onboarding of six new firefighters for a process that should be complete by September as well as a goal to resume strategic planning efforts to establish the best locations for future LTFR fire stations.
That plan, Abbott said, should pick back up as restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic begin to lessen.
With regard to improvements within the PFD, and all fire departments in general, O’Baugh said it is crucial to always move forward for the benefit of the communities they serve.
“The public perception of what we do is ... we go out and do rescues [and] fight fires,” O’Baugh said. “But, internally, what we focus on—our mission is to maintain a constant state of readiness for all those things.”