It’s safe to say that City of Houston Fire Department Chief Robbie Smith is constantly focused on two things: Improving the department and providing the best service possible to city residents.
While keeping those goals in mind, HFD personnel responded to 70 emergency calls in 2021, which is about average for the agency.
“Overall, I think we’re doing great,” said Chief Robbie Smith. “But our goal is to always improve our services to the citizens, including those who live here or those who are traveling through.”
Last fall, the HFD acquired a four-door, four-wheel-drive 2020 Ford F-250 for use as a command/service vehicle that can provide quick response to emergency scenes and transportation for multiple personnel to various functions (such as training and public relations events).
The truck was recently equipped with an “ExtendoBed” that slides in and out of the rear that’s covered by a shell. The unit has been outfitted with numerous items that might be needed at a given response scene, including multiple breathing apparatuses, a battery-powered rescue tool (for both cutting and spreading), a chainsaw (and accompanying gear), three different types of extinguishers, a fold-out dry erase board (for use during command operations), a bucket of oil-dry (for crash scenes), flashing lights for helicopter landing zones and numerous firefighters’ hand tools. The big slide-out tray can also accommodate several sets of bunker gear, and is equipped with several items for use in traffic control, including stop and yield signs and a set of collapsible, lighted traffic cones.
“The vehicle is designed to be first out the door for any miscellaneous calls that don’t pertain to a structure fire,” Smith said.
The truck replaced an older Ford Explorer that the city still uses for other purposes.
“We’re able to add more equipment to this vehicle than we had in the Explorer,” Smith said, “and it’s well organized and easier to access. And the quicker we can do that, the quicker we can proved services to everybody.”
HIGHLIGHTS FROM 2021
•All 248 fire hydrants within Houston city limits were inspected, flushed and outfitted with custom-made metal identification tags.
•The HFD received grant funding last year from the Missouri Department of Conservation toward the purchase of new portable radios, chargers and extended microphones.
“That was a big plus,” Smith said, “because some of our radios needed replacing and some of our people who didn’t have radios have them now.”
•The department’s new Pierce Saber fire engine was put into service.
•Fire trucks in the HFD’s fleet all had their pumps tested and certified, and the aerial assault vehicle’s ladder was also tested. The department’s 14 self-contained breathing apparatus units also received annual testing and certification.
•Smith updated and re-wrote the department’s Standard Operating Procedures.
“That gives us guidelines for department personnel,” Smith said, “which is very important. Of course, they’re only guidelines, because each scene and scenario is different and it’s impossible to say that ‘this is what’s going to happen every time.’
“Sometimes it comes down to common sense judgment, but this gives them an idea of what’s expected during emergency calls and every other aspect of our operations.”
Smith said revenue from the sales tax approved by voters in 2019 has proven to be as valuable as hoped.
“We’re able to accomplish what we’re accomplishing because the citizens support us,” Smith said. “Without the tax, and if we were only working with general revenue, I’m not sure what we would have here.
“Our main goal regarding the tax is to show the citizens that we’re doing exactly what we promised we would do with the money.”
The HFD’s roster currently includes 30 firefighters and three scene-support personnel.
Support personnel (usually spouses) provide assistance with making sure responders are hydrated and fed when remaining at scenes for several hours, and can perform many other tasks when necessary.
“We have a lot of new personnel interested in learning,” Smith said.
So far, the HFD has been extremely busy in 2022, already responding to 16 calls compared to 5 at the same time in 2021.
The good news is that none of the calls have involved a house fire.
“We’ve already tripled last year,” Smith said. “But it’s always good when it’s not pertaining to houses or someone losing personal property.”
Sixteen HFD members recently participated in CPR and other related training provided by Texas County Memorial Hospital.
Driver training will take place in April, and HFD firefighters will attend training classes scheduled this year in Ava, Columbia and other locations, and Smith intends to arrange as many training classes as possible here in Houston.
Interested HFD personnel will also soon begin Emergency Medical Response (EMR) training, allowing them to provide certain services in the absence of qualified Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs).
“Ambulances are getting way busier,” said HFD assistant chief Jon Cook, “and people are having longer wait times for them to arrive.”
“The goal is to provide basic first aid until ambulance units arrive,” Smith said. “What we can do is pretty limited, but we want to be able to do everything we can.”
To help Texas County fire departments maintain a connection and move forward with similar goals and purposes, Smith and the eight other county chiefs meet monthly at the City of Houston fire station. Mountain Grove’s chief has also been attending, since that department’s coverage area reaches into a portion of Texas County.
Smith said it’s all about the department being the best it can be.
“I think we’re moving forward in great leaps and bounds,” he said. “We’re experiencing huge improvements all the time.”
THE HFD IN 2021
•Total responses: 70
•Motor vehicle crashes: 18
•Medical, CPR, lift-assist, landing zones: 11
•Fire alarms: 10
•Structure fires: 9
•Carbon monoxide, propane, gas: 7
•Vehicle fires: 4
•Public assist: 3
•Gas and oil spills: 1
•Power lines down, poles on fire: 1
•Smoke investigation: 1
•Sprinkler activated: 1
*All incidents were entered into the National Fire Incident Reporting System (FFIRS)
•Chief: Robbie Smith
•First assistant chief: Jon Cook
•Second assistant chief: Jeremy St. John
•First captain: Don Gaston
•Second captain: C.J. Moore
•Lieutenants: Bobby Bell, Joey Moore
•Firefighters: Logan Cary, R.J. Enfield, Doug Gaston, Frank Gayer, Jennifer Jackson, Mike Jackson, C.J. Lee, Anthony Teem, Jacob Wallace, John Wallace, Coby Warner, Andy Wells.
•Cadet firefighters: Ashlyn Burns, Joseph Chase, Calli Cook, Ethan Ullom, Shay Ullom, Nick Washko, Jeremy Wink, Hannah Wolfe, Jimmy Wolfe, Mackenzie Wolfe, Regan Wolfe.
•Support: Ronda Cook, Jamie St. John, Amy Smith.