Fire­fight­ers were over­worked in 2008 apart­ment blaze, re­port says

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Claire Osborn

ROUND ROCK — Round Rock fire­fight­ers were over­worked, and fire of­fi­cials re­fused help from the Austin Fire Depart­ment while bat­tling a 2008 blaze in which four fire­fight­ers were in­jured, ac­cord­ing to an in­de­pen­dent re­port re­leased late Thurs­day.

The city man­ager or­dered the re­view af­ter the Round Rock As­so­ci­a­tion of Pro­fes­sional Fire­fight­ers an­nounced in April a vote of no con­fi­dence for Chief Larry Hodge and As­sis­tant Chief Howard Cruse. Many fire­fight­ers said Hodge never ad­dressed safety con­cerns from the fire at La Fron­tera Square, an apart­ment com­plex.

A com­pan­ion re­port, also re­leased Thurs­day by Man­age­ment Ad­vi­sory Group Inc., ad­dressed what it called de­te­ri­o­rat­ing re­la­tions be­tween rank-and-file fire­fight­ers and Fire Depart­ment of­fi­cials. It rec­om­mended a train­ing pro­gram and meet­ings ev­ery two weeks for six months among the city man­ager, fire chief, as­sis­tant fire chief, union lead­er­ship and a com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tive to ad­dress spe­cific

Con­tin­ued from A is­sues.

Billy Col­burn, the pres­i­dent of the fire­fight­ers as­so­ci­a­tion, said the study did not ad­dress fric­tion be­tween the fire chief and fire­fight­ers.

“I don’t think the treat­ment of fire­fight­ers on a daily ba­sis was ad­dressed,” Col­burn said. “Guys are afraid to make de­ci­sions be­cause of reper­cus­sions.”

But he said he be­lieves that Round Rock City Man­ager Jim Nuse is go­ing to try to “do his best” to fix the prob­lems in the Fire Depart­ment be­fore Nuse re­tires in Jan­uary.

“We will re­solve this,” Nuse said Fri­day. He said the first meet­ing of fire­fight­ers, man­age­ment and him­self has al­ready been sched­uled.

Nuse also said that Round Rock will ad­here to the rec­om­men­da­tions in the stud­ies.

He said he was en­cour­aged by the pos­i­tive find­ings in the study about the Fire Depart­ment, in­clud­ing im­proved re­sponse times, more train­ing and equip­ment and bet­ter fo­cus and pro­fes­sion­al­ism since said the city will ad­here to the stud­ies’ sug­ges­tions. the depart­ment’s last eval­u­a­tion in 2005.

The re­port on the re­sponse to the fire at La Fron­tera Square found that some fire­fight­ers were at the scene for 14 hours, and many of them went through seven or eight air cylin­ders be­fore tak­ing a rest break, ac­cord­ing to the study. Nor­mally, fire­fight­ers take breaks af­ter go­ing through two to three cylin­ders of air, the study said.

Hodge re­fused help that was of­fered from the Austin Fire Depart­ment be­cause he thought the blaze was nearly un­der con­trol, ac­cord­ing to the study.

Col­burn said the Round Rock Fire Depart­ment usu­ally asks for help from other de­part­ments when a fire goes be­yond a two-alarm sta­tus. The blaze at La Fron­tera was a two-alarm fire, but ac­cord­ing to Col­burn, it should have been el­e­vated to three alarms.

Hodge and Cruse did not re­turn calls for com­ment Fri­day.

Col­burn said all Round Rock fire­fight­ers, in­clud­ing off-duty fire­fight­ers, were work­ing at the fire, which burned the top floor and roof of the build­ing, or work­ing at the cen­tral fire sta­tion to re­spond to other calls for ser­vice.

The study also found that fire­fight­ers at first made the wrong kind of cut in the roof to try to slow the blaze be­cause of “com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­fu­sion” and then tried again to cut through the roof but failed be­cause they en­coun­tered an area that “barred saw pen­e­tra­tion.”

Bill Neville, an as­so­ci­ate with the man­age­ment group that con­ducted the study, said the Round Rock Fire Depart­ment lacked a plan for fight­ing a fire at that com­plex that would have ad­dressed is­sues in­clud­ing how the roof was con­structed.

The re­port also said the depart­ment doesn’t have its own train­ing fa­cil­ity and rec­om­mended that it build one.

Jim Nuse

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