Two years after report, Austin City Council may take first action in addressing fire station shortage

A lack of fire stations has put several areas in Austin at high safety risk and increased the cost of home insurance premiums, an issue the City Council will address at its regular meeting Thursday.

A 2016 analysis showed an immediate need for fire stations in five areas that were falling substantially short of the Austin Fire Department’s goal of eight-minute response times: Travis Country, Moore’s Crossing in Del Valle, Davenport Ranch, Goodnight Ranch and Canyon Creek.

As of today, no fire stations have been built nor has the council allocated any funding toward these project areas.

On Thursday, Austin City Council will look to take its first step in addressing the public safety need by directing city staff to build two temporary fire stations—one in Del Valle, another in Travis Country—within the next six months.

In March, city staff laid out a timeline of 10 years for the construction of all five stations, with Del Valle and Travis Country at the top of the priority list. The temporary stations would act as a placeholder while construction of the permanent stations takes place.

“If it’s going to take two to three years [to build the permanent stations for the two areas], then there needs to be a contingency plan for temporary stations,” District 2 Council Member Delia Garza said at Tuesday's work session. Del Valle is in her district. Garza, a former local firefighter, has long advocated for action on the fire station shortage.

District 10 Council Member Alison Alter said she, too, wanted a permanent solution but hesitated to support the action because she was uncertain how it would affect the budget.

Ed Van Eenoo, the city’s deputy budget officer, mentioned several channels of potential funding mechanisms, from using the city’s credit line to the possibility of spending unused bond funds from 2006.

Tom Dodds, chief of staff at the Austin Fire Department, said through use of overtime and resource reserves, the department could provide the fire engines and staff for temporary fire stations immediately.

District 6 Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said he intends to support the resolution on Thursday but said the issue was a result of poor annexation policy by the city of Austin.

Garza said she counted enough votes for the resolution to pass Thursday but urged the other council members to come on board.

“It’s a huge investment, but at a very basic level, a city should provide [adequate] public safety resources,” Garza said.