300: Fire life safety technician John Abroms gives 27 years of service to UT

Elizabeth Hlavinka

When most people walk into a building on campus, they notice the decorations on the walls or the door they walk through. But when John Abroms enters, he sees the building’s skeleton — the rafters, ventilation and alarm systems buried deep within its walls.

As the University’s fire & life safety technician, Abroms responds to emergency dispatch calls that set off fire alarms on campus. The accidents range from alarms unintentionally set off to fires caused by experiments in Welch Hall.

Since taking the job in 1989, Abroms said the worst call was a fire in the Chemical Transfer building in the ’90s, an accident so potentially dangerous that a team was sent in with HAZMAT suits, and traffic was shut down from I-35 to Guadalupe Street.

Passing through UT’s buildings for the past 27 years, Abroms has also met several notable people on campus.

In 1990, Abroms and a few co-workers were navigating the LBJ Library and ran into Lady Bird Johnson and her Secret Service agents. Abroms said Johnson made an effort to personally get to know his story, insisting he visit her each time he had a job in the building.

After tearing his hamstring on the job, Abroms coincidentally sat across from Barbara Jordan in the hospital as he endured his treatment. Abroms said Jordan told him he wouldn’t cry and spoke to him with such conviction and power that he maintained composure through the pain.

Abroms calls his work “dancing” because he is always adapting to new situations and “doesn’t know what song is coming up next.” 

“Caring really goes a long way,” Abroms said. “My ability to get along with people, to communicate, to bring some heart to it and be able to care for people whether you know them or not [lets] you go that extra mile.”