Four-person staffing on Austin fire engines now a law following City Council vote

Although already required by national fire safety regulations, four-person staffing on all fire engines is now required by an Austin city ordinance following City Council action Dec. 13.

The Austin Fire Department has required constant four-person staffing consistently since 2012 to align with the National Fire Protection Association’s standards. Austin City Council passed a resolution that aimed to boost minimum fire engine staffing from three to four; however, it never made it to the city’s books as a law, which District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen sought to change.

In order to avoid tying the hands of the fire chief or city manager in unforeseen situations, City Council added language that would except “rare” and “catastrophic” events, such as wildfires. The ordinance distinctly requires four-person staffing on fire engines and not those that could be used on strictly medical calls, to which the fire department also responds.

“We’re not trying to tie the city manager or the chief’s hands,” said Bob Nicks, president of the Austin Firefighters Association. “It does ensure that the safety standards that are really [not refuted] nationally are adhered to in City Hall.”

Issues around four-person staffing arose during the 2017 budget cycle, when the Austin Fire Department, suffering from a crippling number of vacancies, requested a $3.5 million budget amendment to pay for unexpected overtime costs. This sparked conversations over the fiscal impact of the four-person staffing standard, which eventually fizzled out.