Firefighters were overworked in 2008 apartment blaze, report says
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
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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.