Austin Fire collisions decline as zero tolerance policy is enforced

FILE photo: Austin Fire Department truck. (KXAN Photo)
FILE photo: Austin Fire Department truck. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s Fire Department reports collisions with other vehicles or fixed objects are down more than a third — 36 percent — this year since the chief began docking firefighters’ pay in October.

A KXAN analysis shows much of the same trend – preventable collisions dropping from a high of 10 in Feb 2016 to 4 in the final months of the year.

When you’re driving a fire truck there’s plenty to collide with: curbs, overhanging tree limbs and other vehicles. It was heavy rush hour traffic at Walsh Tarlton Lane and Bee Cave Road when Michael Scully says he was stopped in the left turn lane. A fire truck came out of the shopping center and clipped his rear bumper.

“Their light turns green, they turn the other way and head off up Bee Cave Road. I couldn’t believe it!” Scully said. The city of Austin paid his damage claim.

On AFD’s end, last fall, Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr decided to more strictly enforce a zero tolerance policy. KXAN counted more than two dozen firefighters who have lost at least four hours pay.

AFD’s union president says the department’s data has included the most minor infractions, like running over a chock block, a move he says increases the number of incidents. “I used to be safety chief of the department and we certainly didn’t include chalk block incidents in data in the early 2000s,” Bob Nicks, with the Austin Firefighters’ Association, says.

AFD executives defend the discipline, pointing out between last fall and now, preventable collisions are significantly down. “Oh I don’t think the problem’s fixed. Our goal would be zero collisions,” said Assistant Chief Aaron Wolverton.

The Austin Fire Department is taking other steps to reduce its collisions. This summer, AFD will hold its first driver refresher training in years. The mandatory four-hour course will be held every year at the department’s academy in southeast Austin.

Among the findings, of more than 400 ‘contacts’ KXAN News examined over seven years:

  • 109 incidents involved enough damage to warrant repairs
  • AFD vehicles struck other vehicles (parked and moving) 57 times
  • Other drivers struck AFD vehicles 114 times
  • AFD vehicles struck other property 140 times (landscaping, tree limbs, walls, gates, high curbs)
  • AFD vehicles came into contact with fire station property 62 times (garage doors, walls, bollards)
  • Total cost of repairs: $430,823.45

AFD collisions by year

Year Total collisions Damage costs
2010 52 $46,715.00
2011 33 $4,601.13
2012 61 $39,990.81
2013 50 $39,899.92
2014 68 $123,401.27
2015 51 $118,614.81
2016 109 $40,550.70

Of the 420 collisions, 109 involved damage that required repairs. The top five most expensive repairs according to Austin Fleet Services from records provided to AFD are:

  1. $50,179.78 Jan. 9, 2014, 6:34 a.m. Engine 8 proceeded after stopping at a red light. Noticed a car traveling on SB 183 was not stopping. The driver was cautioned to stop before the collision.
  2. $45,792.95 May 24, 2015, 9:30 a.m. Engine 1 was crossing E. Riverside Dr. at the north access road on a green light when a vehicle ran its red light and struck engine 1.
  3. $42,426.86 May 7, 2016 2:05 p.m. Quint 1 was responding to 21 Waller St. It struck a tree limb on 5th St. that damaged the bucket lift door.
  4. $41,239.80 Jan 28, 2014 9:15 a.m. AFD vehicle lost control on an icy bridge and struck a barrier
  5. $28,349.37 March 15, 2015 2:23 a.m. Quint 18 was pulling out of station with lights and sirens activated with a southbound vehicle crossed the center line and struck the fire vehicle. The second driver was charged with DWI.

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