From the moment Robbie Smith became City of Houston Fire Department Chief in November 2018, he has continually focused on improvement.

“The goal here is to always look at how we can better ourselves,” said HFD Chief Robbie Smith, “and by doing that, how we can better serve the community and the public.”

The HFD responded to 172 calls in 2022, a total far higher than in previous years. But that’s because for the first time ever, emergency medical responses (EMR) were part of the agency’s duties.

EMR calls include establishing landing zones for medical helicopters, something that was separately categorized in the past, but Smith said HFD personnel responded more than 60 times to medically-oriented calls they would not have been involved in before.

“It was definitely a busy year,” Smith said.

On several occasions last year, HFD personnel provided valuable patient care while waiting an extended period of time for an ambulance crew to arrive (even as much as 40 minutes).

“That was very unfortunate,” Smith said, “but the good thing is we were there.”


•All hydrants within city limits received annual inspections and flush procedures, and some were tested to determine water pressure and gallons-per-minute flow.

•All fire engines had their pump systems go through annual testing and certification, and the department’s Pierce Quantum aerial assault truck had its ladder tested and certified.

The City of Houston Fire Department’s “first out” Pierce Saber pumper truck, left, and Pierce Quantum ladder truck await the next call inside the fire station on First Street.

•All 16 of the HFD’s self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) units were also tested and certified.

All testing and certification of vehicles and equipment is done by qualified personnel from third-party companies.

“It has to be done by someone outside the department,” Smith said.

•A new, state-of-the-art gas meter detector was obtained via grant funding from MFA Oil (which has a program to help law enforcement and fire protection agencies purchase new gear). Other new equipment acquired included a battery-powered positive pressure fan, bunker gear and several new SCBA units.

The fan is designed for use in potentially explosive environments since it doesn’t rely on a motor.

“It can run for 45 minutes without being plugged into a power source,” Smith said. “We used it right after we got it and it does a fantastic job.”

•A state-of-the-art SCBA mask equipped with a thermal imaging camera (TIC) and unobtrusive viewing screen was also recently obtained. The unit will compliment the department’s handheld TIC.

New equipment obtained by the Houston Fire Department in 2022 included multiple self contained breathing apparatus units (SCBA), an SCBA mask equipped with a thermal imaging camera and unobtrusive viewing screen, a gas detector and a battery-operated fan.

“That will still be the main, go-to TIC,” Smith said. “But the mask allows the first person on the end of the hose to see where the seat of the fire is without the big handheld unit. That allows him to hang onto the nozzle and perform his duties but still have an eye on what’s ahead of him.

“And when the next entry team comes in, those firefighters are able to carry tools in their hands instead of having to deal with the thermal imaging device.”


The HFD currently has 28 firefighters on its roster, including 23 male and five female.

Firefighters are paid per response by the City of Houston. Personnel who have earned firefighter I and II certification receive $75 for structure fire calls and $55 for other calls, while others receive $25 per call.

“The city council has been very supportive of compensating our firefighters,” Smith said, “and we’re very thankful for that.”

Several roster members are in the “cadet” stages of their involvement.

“Those are the ones who are newer to the department,” Smith said, “and there are certain types of training we want them to complete before classifying them as an actual firefighter.”

Smith logged 1,584 hours during 2022, a total that’s about average for him.


The HFD’s vehicular fleet includes a 2021 Pierce Saber fire engine, the agency’s “first-out” truck with a six-man cab that leaves the station before all others for every response within the city limits, but is not used for mutual aid with other departments.

Even though it can accommodate six firefighters, the truck goes out immediately after at least two are in it.

“The quicker we can put water on a fire, the less amount of damage occurs,” Smith said.

The HFD’s two other fire trucks are a 2006 Pierce Quantum aerial assault engine with a 75-foot extendable ladder (second-out) and a 2008 Pierce Saber pumper engine (third-out). Both are available for mutual aid.

The department also has a 2021 four-door Ford F-250 outfitted as a command (or “chase”) vehicle.


The first steps have been taken in the creation of a combined fire and police training facility on a 1.92-acre tract on Opportunity Circle, next to the big white water tower and between the city’s Tuttle Soccer Complex and the Opportunity Sheltered Industries building. With help from former city economic development director Rob Harrington, the land was obtained a couple of years ago from the Houston Industrial Authority, and has already been cleared of saplings and other bushes. Next up is leveling the ground and construction of a retention pond.

The City of Houston Fire Department’s new training facility will be located on Opportunity Circle, between the city’s Tuttle Soccer Complex and the Opportunity Sheltered Industries building.

“It is in the budget,” Smith said, “and we’re excited about moving forward with the project.”

The multi-story training tower is expected to be erected in 2024, and will allow for numerous forms of training, live burns, entrapment, ground ladder placement, aerial ladder placement, ventilation, forceable entry, ascent and descent, and more.

The pond will allow for training in “drafting,” or using an on-location water supply for pumper trucks. Smith said sites that offer training in drafting aren’t common in the region, so he looks forward to being able to conduct drafting classes.

“That will be a big plus for a lot of people,” Smith said. “There are so many different scenarios that we don’t have the capability to practice for right now, and the training facility will change that.”


The HFD is funded in large part by income from a sales tax approved by voters in 2019.

“I’m very pleased with the way we’re spending those funds,” Smith said. “If it weren’t for the tax, most of what we’re doing wouldn’t be possible.”

The HFD boasts an ISO rating of 3, which is unusually good for a small-town fire department. In fact, it’s rare.

“We’re very happy with where we stand,” Smith said, “and where we’re headed in the future.”


Total calls: 172

Emergency medical responses: 99

Motor vehicle crashes: 21

Fire alarms: 14

Carbon monoxide, propane, gas leaks: 12

Structure fires: 8

Public assists: 3

Vehicle fires: 3

Wildfires: 3

Electrical fires: 2

Nuisance: 2

Smoke investigations: 2

Dumpster fires: 1

Power lines down/pole on fire: 1

Tree on house: 1

One of the pieces of new equipment obtained by the Houston Fire Department in 2022 was a self contained breathing apparatus mask outfitted with a thermal imaging camera (at left). The firefighter using it can look at a small viewing screen within the mask, positioned so it doesn’t obstruct the user’s overall vision.
The TIC viewing screen on the new mask is located at the right side of the unit’s interior.
Firefighters’ bunker gear awaits the next call inside the city fire station on First Street. The bright yellow vests were among the new items obtained in 2022.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at

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