Increased traffic congestion delays fire department and emergency medical services response time

Graysen Golter

Austin fire stations and emergency medical services are struggling to respond in time to emergencies due to traffic.

Increases in population, traffic congestion and irresponsible driving are some of the top reasons for delayed response times to emergencies, according to the Austin Fire Department.

Austin Fire Division chief Palmer Buck said the gold standard for fire stations is to respond in under eight minutes to 90% of emergencies, but traffic often delays fire stations across Austin by more than a minute on average. He said one emergency near State Highway 30 and State Highway 71 had a response time of 15 minutes.

Buck said AFD is working with the Austin Transportation Department to fix the issue. He said some of the solutions he has in mind are the creation of a computer system that would take current Austin traffic into account and give responders the quickest route possible to an emergency, as well as shrinking the currently bulky firetrucks to fit in narrower streets and roads.

“It’s not a fire problem versus an EMS problem versus an Austin traffic conditions problem,” Buck said. “All the public safety agencies in the city are working together. We understand what we can do can affect that and vice versa.”


Jen Duthie, the division manager for the Arterial Management division at the Austin Transportation Department, said ATD will be working with the Austin Fire Department and EMS to secure grant money for more software-based solutions to the traffic issue. She said new traffic signals will include software that automatically facilitates and leads traffic in all directions to allow emergency responders to reach their destinations quicker.

“We wouldn’t be searching for a solution if we weren’t aware that (emergency responders) do have trouble sometimes, especially as congestion increases,” Duthie said. “It’s a complex system out there for them to navigate, so we’re working with them in every way we can to find solutions to get there faster.”

Jim Dale, the assistant director of Austin Transportation Department, said the community can help relieve the traffic burden on fire stations and EMS by being more aware of their surroundings while driving. He said distracted driving is one of the more common behaviors in Austin that lead to traffic accidents.

“Paying attention and staying off the electronic devices while driving … is one of the primary issues that we face,” Dale said.

Jacob Barrett, the public information specialist at Austin Transportation Department, said he encourages Austin drivers to avoid blocking intersections when there is not enough room on the other side of the street. He also said residents should take public transportation and avoid using cars as single-occupancy vehicles when possible to cut down on congestion.

“Congestion is an issue that everybody feels in the city,” Barrett said. “We’re doing our very best to improve what we can on our side … but the community also has a part to play in helping manage congestion.”