History of the BFD
A History of Fire Protection in the Tri-Cities and Baytown
by Patrick Mahoney, Battalion Chief
Organized governmental fire protection in the Tri-Cities began at the latest in 1919. In April of that year the City of Goose Creek incorporated following a January referendum. The new city quickly formed a volunteer fire department. The City of Pelly, also incorporated in 1919, had more or less organized fire protection that year. A chemical cart was housed at Leggett’s Drug store at what is now 514 West Main. The first recorded structure fire fought by either of these departments was in Pelly. A photo lab exploded and caught fire. In 1920 Pelly chartered its own volunteer fire department. The biggest fire of the era was likely the group fire of June 18, 1921. A theater and revival tent were destroyed and a hotel, realty office, plumbing company, and paint shop were badly burned. Damages were estimated at $286,000 in 2015 dollars, not counting the tent.
Career firefighters made their earliest appearance in the area in 1925 when Pelly hired its first fire chief. That was a year of advancements as Pelly also received its first motorized fire apparatus, a used Model T chemical truck. Chemical trucks were a common type of fire apparatus up to that time; many large departments staffed chemical companies in addition to engine and ladder companies. In that era engines had, at most, very small booster tanks. The chemical wagon was used as a quick attack unit. These apparatus usually carried large, mounted soda/acid extinguishers and rubberized hose lines for immediate use on arrival.
The third city in the Tri-Cities was the unincorporated community of Baytown. This Baytown was a rowdy community of refinery workers and sailors, notable for its red light district and relatively dense population. On June 18, 1934 the Baytown Volunteer Fire Department held its first meeting. At some point they acquired a 1927 American LaFrance pumper, though its origin is lost to history.
Perhaps the biggest fire that decade revealed just how dense the community of Baytown was. On September 26, 1939 a group fire destroyed eight buildings, including a Mexican restaurant. The papers reported 150 people left homeless but only about $7,000 in damages. Aside from the ruined buildings a grocery store was saved but looted.
Pelly and Goose Creek took on career firefighters during World War II and shortly postwar. At the beginning of 1945 Pelly hired Jim French and by consolidation in 1948 it is known that Pelly had a staff of five career members while Goose Creek had one.
Neighboring suburban and rural communities had volunteer departments by this time. Wooster and Cedar Bayou each had volunteer fire departments, though founding dates are unknown. There is also some vague reference to a volunteer fire department farther north along Cedar Bayou, probably in the area of today’s District 6 or just north. These vaguely known volunteer departments provided the remainder of the fire protection in what is today Baytown.
In December of 1945 the City of Pelly annexed the community of Baytown to its west. Just a few months later the citizens of the Goose Creek and the newly enlarged Pelly voted to consolidate. On January 24, 1948 the City of Baytown was granted a charter and the Tri-Cities became one.
The three involved fire departments were subsumed into a new Baytown Fire Department. The Goose Creek Volunteer Fire Department voted itself out of existence on February 11th of that year and its lone employee, along with Pelly’s five employees, became the Baytown Fire Department’s paid staff. The old community of Baytown did not have any known paid firefighters. Pelly’s fire station became Baytown’s Station 1, the community of Baytown’s station became Baytown Station 2, and Goose Creek’s station became Baytown Station 3.
The tiny paid staff expanded by one, to six, by January of 1949. Art Lintelman was chief, Hub Bounds fire marshal, and Luther Talent, L.V. Bailey, Jim French, and Starkey Speights the firefighter/drivers.
The story of the BFD in the 1950s appears to be one of a department badly undermanned repeatedly facing near-disaster even while making steady advances in equipment and structure. At the beginning of 1950 the department rostered 90 volunteers and six career.
An unusually cold winter early in 1950 and a severe drought that summer made for a tinderbox in the fall. On November 28th the department engaged in 36 consecutive hours of firefighting with numerous incidents, mostly wildfires, from Decker to Sjolander to Beasley Addition, which was apparently off Carey Bayou in the modern District 3. Just 12 days later things were worse.
On Sunday December 10th BFD answered 110 alarms in 13 hours. Things were so bad that about a dozen firefighters were hospitalized with burns that day alone. Fire departments from Houston, Texas City, La Porte, Dickinson, Channelview, Wooster, Galena Park, Jacinto City, Highlands, Dayton, and Greens Bayou responded in to Baytown to assist, though some had to split off to return to their own jurisdictions for fires. Company E of the Texas National Guard and the Galena Park and Jacinto City Police Departments even assisted.
One fire began on Beaumont Street and spread all the way east to the bayou, taking numerous buildings and industrial and agricultural equipment along the way. The woods between Evergreen Road and Pelly burned to the treetops. A lumber yard on Decker was surrounded by ad hoc fire berms but still suffered some fire damage. Many homes were lost. At one point a fire tanker broke down but was so badly needed that a tow truck brought it to a scene. The next day the BFD answered 75 calls in 11 hours, among them a fire that destroyed a sawmill at Highway 146 and Cedar Bayou.
Despite the disasters of 1950, in 1951 only one additional member was hired and the volunteer roster held at 90. These 97 staffed five pumpers, two tankers, a pickup, and a chief’s car. In January of that year the department was already equipped with two-way radios though we do not know when they were acquired.
On August 26th the city bought 628 acres around where the current Station 2 sits; the volunteers considered this satisfactory and the State Fire Insurance Commission endorsed it as suitable given expected growth patterns. A committee was formed to oversee planning for the new station and it had its scheme settled by October. On October 25th the mayor rejected the plan for a 72’x72’ two-story station. He considered the footprint too large and wanted a cost comparison of one- and two-story stations. The station would not open until 1954 and only then after a dispute between the city and its contractor over the quality of interior work. That same year the professional firefighters organized Local 1173 of the International Association of Firefighters.
Career staff had increased to 14 by 1955 when the first midlevel career officer position was created and L.V. Bailey was promoted to captain. The department also suffered its first line of duty death that year. In 1956 the department took on dispatching duties, relieving the Baytown Police Department of that task. Dispatch was housed at Station 2 and was conducted by telephone and radio with firefighters working 12-hour shifts as dispatchers. The city annexed the Cedar Bayou neighborhood that August, taking in the territory of the Cedar Bayou Volunteer Fire Department.
Several major fires that year leave the impression the department was underequipped and understaffed; even city council would come to recognize the former. On September 4th there were three structure fire incidents, one of them a group fire affecting several businesses and another burning a hotel. The group fire involved a glass company and one firefighter was badly cut while three others and a civilian received minor injuries. Less than a week later, on September 10th, a group fire at Market and Harbor destroyed a hotel and three other businesses. Chief Lintelman was overcome by smoke and transported to the hospital by the Earthman Funeral Home’s ambulance. These two fires alone accounted for a fire loss of over $3 million in 2015 dollars.
The next week Chief Lintelman went before city council to ask for the immediate purchase of a ladder truck. He reported that the two group fires could have been controlled sooner had an aerial been present and warned that the city’s good credit with the insurance commission was in jeopardy. A used 1949 American LaFrance 700 series mid-mount aerial was subsequently purchased from the Galveston Fire Department and housed at the new Station 2.
The first new company created by the city was introduced in March 1957 when Station 4 opened on Ward Road. This area had previously been served by the Cedar Bayou VFD from a metal building off Kilgore Road near Ward Road. On January 14, 1956 the CBVFD had lost its only pumper in a grass fire. Four days later the Baytown city council voted to retire the CBVFD’s debts and appropriated funds to purchase a pumper for the new Station 4. With the annexation of the area the CBVFD ceased to exist and the Baytown Fire Department now had four stations.
BFD attended at least three other fire disasters toward the end of the decade. On January 19, 1958 the United Rubber and Chemical plant north of town suffered a butadiene explosion that killed three workers and injured six others. On November 9, 1959 BFD sent nine members on mutual aide to Houston for a ship fire. The S.S. Amoco Virginia was burning at the dock and had already killed six or seven crewmembers. A Houston firefighter drowned in a hold full of gasoline at this fire. On December 3, 1959 a group fire at 1100 Harbor destroyed three buildings and damaged four others.
In the first half of the 1960s the department averaged 379 alarms annually without much of an increase between 1960 and 1965. The city council did investigate relieving the fire department of dispatching and returning it to the police department in 1961. Firefighters, police officers, and city staff were all opposed and the State Fire Insurance Commission advised the city this would be viewed “with a great deal of disfavor.” The move was not implemented. By 1963 there were 21 career firefighters on staff and just fewer than 125 volunteers on the roster. That year the city annexed Wooster and the Wooster Volunteer Fire Department gave way to Station 5. Wooster VFD had just opened a second station on Bayway Drive north of Baker to supplement their old station located in the Bayway curve. The new station became BFD Station 5 and the old station remained in use as a training and meeting area for the volunteers while also housing a tanker.
Three years later there were at least 27 career firefighters but this number was considered dramatically below standard. In 1967 the city closed Station 1, then at Lee and Nazro, and reassigned the personnel to Station 2. District 1 continued as a volunteer entity for years afterward. In April the State Insurance Board delivered a report to the city recommending either 20 or 35 firefighters, exclusive of volunteers, dispatchers, and chiefs, on duty at all times. The figure of 20 came from a contemporary Houston Post report while the figure of 35 came from a later union report.
With three shifts and 27 men spread between administration, dispatch, and fire companies, it is clear the city was understaffed. The backdrop to this staffing issue was a population increase of 56% between the 1960 and 1970 censuses. City council did take action to increase staffing, though not to the recommended level. In 1969 there were 42 career members in the firefighter and driver rank, four captains, a fire marshal, and the fire chief. Two of those captain positions were new. Even at that, the State Insurance Board delivered a report in February calling the city 44% understaffed and listing other organizational and material deficiencies, including the lack of a training officer, lack of a northern station, and inadequate supervision of volunteers. On the upside, that year Baytown became the first fire department in Texas equipped with fiberglass helmets.
In 1971 the city’s lean budget for fire protection and minimal organization reached a tipping point. That year the fire department reported it was budgeted at 32 cents per $100 of valuation while in Houston the budget was 68 cents per $100 and that residents were paying $36,000 (close to $212,000 in 2015 dollars) in insurance penalties because of it. Even this was after a 30% one-year increase in the budget. The department answered 641 alarms and attended 147 structure fires that year. Station 2 was using the oldest pumper in the city, a 1951 American LaFrance, and next to it was the 1949 ladder truck. Stations 3 and 4 each had fairly new Mack engines but Station 5 was operating with a 1963 Ford/American LaFrance pumper and a 1948 Ford/Oren tanker.
The city appears to have begun taking seriously its organization problem that year. Jim Bland, a fire protection engineer, was hired as the fire chief, the first Baytown ever had from outside its own ranks. He introduced the department’s first apparatus maintenance program, which promptly retired three tanker trucks that were declared “beyond feasible repair.” Classified firefighters were relieved of dispatching duties when four civilians were hired for those positions and station alerting was done by radio tone instead of telephone. Each company received a resuscitator for its first aid kit, and Driver John Humphrey began hosting a weekly call-in radio show on KWBA AM to give the public a chance to ask question and hear about the Baytown Fire Department.
In October Baytown continued on the cutting edge of personal protective equipment. Twelve members of the Baytown Fire Department worked with NASA and a few members of the Houston Fire Department to test new PPE at a live burn in an acquired structure near today’s fire and police administration complex. The tests were filmed by two cameramen, a sound man, and a director from NASA.
All this change was overwhelming for some. In September a representative of the volunteer firefighters went before a city council budget workshop to defend the “country boy route” of firefighting while opposing the creation of professional company officers and any increase in career staffing. Career members had other conflicts with the new chief and even some letter writers from the public complained to the Baytown Sun of issues like the chief’s reliance on “college books” and the decision to carpet fire stations and buy vacuum cleaners.
The year went out on a tragic note with a fatality fire on Wisconsin Street on Christmas Day. The first company on scene was only staffed with two members. This was one of a number of fire fatalities that would be brought up in coming years as the union fought for additional professional staff.
By 1972 the equipment operator rank was distinct from the firefighter rank. The more-senior members had been hired as drivers and the rank structure was thus top heavy with 29 drivers and only nine firefighters. There were five captains and no company officers, captain at that time being equivalent to the modern battalion chief. The department hired its first mechanic that year and paid for it with unspent money budgeted for lieutenant positions.
In October the volunteer-staffing issue came to the fore again. Chief Bland had discontinued the policy of sending a career member with a tanker to fires in the county response area outside the city, instead relying on volunteers to pick up the apparatus. In October two houses in Coady burned down when there was no timely response. The department resumed sending career staff to county fires shortly thereafter.
On April 1, 1973, 12 drivers were promoted to lieutenant following a civil service examination and a two-day supervisory class at the Texas Engineering Extension Service. These first lieutenants were Jessie Hoke, Jimmie Hughes, Jimmy Antle, Joe Hlanak, Delton Gautreaux, Carl Holzaepfel, Robert Wingate, Ross Halford, Cecil Clemmer, Bobby Horn, Sam Lanier, and Raymond Badeaux. The very next day another two people died in a house fire in District 2 when the first company responded with only two members.
Station 6 opened on Massey-Tompkins in March of 1975, the first station in an area not previously having its own volunteer department. 11 career members were slated to volunteer in District 6 on their off days but the Fair Labor Standards Act prevented it and this was cause for concern by city staff. The city followed that up the next month with the purchase of the first set of Jaws of Life at a cost of $4,976.75 (just over $22,000 in 2015 dollars). This came about after a dump truck on Bayway at Bayvilla rolled over and members had to effect extrication with rotary saws and hacksaws.
The staffing and budget issues came to the fore again in 1977. That year there were ten resignations due to low pay and the department was said to plead for new Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus. In April there were three different kinds of SCBA in use and a third of them had failed their most recent service test. The department also lacked air cylinders and was reduced to fighting a car dealership fire on hands and knees after all the air cylinders were expended. The State Insurance Board penalized the city’s insurance rating in November because of inadequate staffing, poor volunteer turnout, and antiquated equipment.
The 1970s closed out with a modest increase in authorized staffing to 71 classified members in 1979. The oil crisis that year and late-1970s stagflation led to cuts in the BFD’s fuel allotment and a request from the union for a bigger raise than the proposed 7%. At that time firefighters made $4.53 per hour, 32 cents less than meter readers. City council approved an across-the-board 9% raise with better vehicle stipends, higher step pay, and better sick leave for all city employees. Three equipment operators were added to drive the new Ward LaFrance aerial at Station 6.
Even with the new positions, that year the Baytown Sun reported that Baytown only employed one firefighter to every 887 residents, at a conservative estimate. This placed Baytown behind 12 of the 15 examined Texas cities with populations between 50,000 and 100,000. That year a series of arsons burned several schools and other major fires struck the Baytown Sun building, Trinity Episcopal Church, and the Entex office building. The year ended with a total insured fire loss of $4 million (over $13 million in 2015 dollars). Property owners would pay for this when, in 1980, the Insurance Board increased the non-residential fire insurance rate for a period of ten years.
The first major fire of the decade left over 100 homeless at the South Kolon Apartments on Massey-Tompkins. That fire, on August 2, 1980, was yet another case for increasing staffing, nine career and seven volunteers responded initially. On November 5 of that year a group fire, this time at Harbor and Oakwood, burned three buildings. Eight more positions were authorized in 1981 but the department was still short of state insurance requirements. The voters approved bonds for two new stations and two apparatus. One station was to be a “central” station combining two existing stations, administration, and the shop.
In 1982, Howard Gudgell designed the department’s first door logo for the trucks. Garbage bag sales started in 1983. Firefighters were required to sell garbage bags at the stations seven days a week. This joined a long line of non-emergency services the members had been required to undertake, including spraying for mosquitoes and taking tide readings during tropical weather events.
That same year yet another study recommended staffing be increased, this time to 32 on duty at all times. The needle moved just a little bit on October 15, 1984 when the department adopted a minimum three-person staffing on all companies, not including tankers and the ladder. With only five companies this was still abysmal but city council authorized overtime to ensure the minimum. In 1985 authorized staffing was increased to 84 but at times the department was significantly below strength. The city fell even farther behind the state recommendations when a report, commissioned by city council in 1985, recommended six engine and two ladder companies all staffed by four members be on duty 24 hours a day. The bad news kept coming as the city sought to combine two stations in the central superstation concept. A citizen panel opposed this move.
A much larger Station 4 opened in March 1986 and a few months later the contract for the new Station 3, now Station 1, was awarded. Projected cost was $373,313 (nearly $812,000 in 2015 dollars). Two milestones occurred that year. The city adopted 911 service in January. The next year the new fire administration and shop opened without accommodations for fire companies, ending the city’s flirtation with a superstation concept. Fire and EMS dispatch, still part of the BFD, moved into the administration building as well.
Staffing and other battles between the union and city were again in the spotlight in 1987. On February 25, 1987 Station 3 moved from its original station on South Main to 4723 Garth. This move had been opposed by the union because of the reduced coverage in the Pelly and Goose Creek areas. Around 8:00 a.m. on April 8th of that year a house fire on Idlewood killed a mother and her three-year-old son. They were trapped by burglar bars and neighbors heard them screaming before the arrival of the fire department. That area was formerly District 3 but when the new station opened it was assigned to Station 6. Box alarms at the time consisted of two engines and Engines 6 and 3 responded, despite 2 and 4 being closer. The department changed the district assignment the next day, with a spokesman telling the Baytown Sun that the double-fatality fire, “helped them test response times in the new districts.”
In September 1986, the fire chief banned hoods and hip boots then in October he followed it up with banning riding on tailboards. Houston firefighters riding tailboard had been killed by falls in 1982 and 1985. The next year the National Fire Protection Association recommended the practice be banned altogether.
The decade closed out with one last major fire loss. At the Meadowview Apartments, 29 units were destroyed in December 1989. The fire problem was bad that year with 27 civilian fire casualties, including two fire fatalities, and 11 firefighter casualties. The jaws of life were used 31 times and the department saw a 45% increase in its calls to assist the police or ambulances, largely owing to a new city policy to send a fire engine with private ambulances whenever a city ambulance was unavailable.
The early 1990s were another era of rapid advancement for the BFD. In 1990, incident reports were computerized for the first time and in 1991 the department adopted a computer aided dispatch system. This second advancement necessitated a change in shift names. Up to that time the BFD used a C-B-A shift rotation but the new CAD program could not run shifts in reverse order. On January 1, 1992, C and A shifts swapped names.
In 1992, the chief retired and a member from within the department was appointed as the new fire chief. Procedural and organizational changes followed like a wave. In February, the old chief's ban on hoods, enacted in 1986, was rescinded. In February the jaws of life were moved to Stations 3 and 4 and shift change moved from 0655 to 0700 hours. In March, captains were re-designated battalion chiefs, reflecting their longtime role in the BFD. The same memorandum placed the two mini-pumpers permanently out of service and ordered full engine companies to respond to calls outside the city limits in the county area, changed responses for structure fires to two engines and a ladder instead of two engines, eliminated 10-codes, and changed radio designations to plain language, for example changing Unit 41 to Engine 4. In July, conversion to five-inch supply hose began. But perhaps the biggest change was the expansion of response duties. Though the department had been responding to some medical calls to assist Baytown EMS and private services, it would now automatically be sent to calls for unconscious parties and drownings. in December, yet another major Christmastime fire left 250 homeless at the Guardian Manor Apartments.
Elimination of the equipment operators driving the mini-pumpers allowed for manpower to be shifted and lieutenant spots were created in training and in public education and prevention. The department’s makeup, however, was considered unrepresentative of the community by a federal judge. On March 20th, a consent decree was entered that required separate white and minority eligibility lists with hiring alternating between them.
Changes continued in 1993 with formal implementation of a first responder program. In January, all members not already certified as Emergency Medical Technicians were required to attend an in-house EMT course. On June 11th the department officially became a medical first response organization. Engines would be sent automatically and initially on calls for difficulty breathing, carbon monoxide inhalation, cardiac arrests, chest injuries, choking, drowning, electrocution, falls, suicides, motor vehicle incidents, unconscious and syncopal episodes, and unknown emergencies.
On January 29th, Baytown became a fully career department. The volunteer component was organized apart from the Baytown Fire Department command staff, as individual volunteer departments in each district. They conducted their own purchasing with city money and this became an issue for the city’s legal department. There were only 12 rostered volunteer firefighters, and only two of those were considered active, when city council voted to disband the Baytown Volunteer Fire Department. The last major organizational change took effect in August when a combined dispatch center opened and the BFD ended in-house dispatching after 38 years. Other changes included a ban on firearms and smoking in the stations and the introduction of positive pressure ventilation fans on all five companies.
Early in 2000 the union made a second effort to obtain voter approval of collective bargaining. The first attempt, in 1974, was trounced at the ballot box. Public outreach, block-walking, and assistance from the Houston firefighters’ local were integral to the new effort. This time things were different and on May 6, 2000 collective bargaining was approved by a narrow majority of Baytown voters- 50.86% for and 49.14% against. Voter turnout was, however, only 9%.
Low pay still weighed heavily on the members. In 2000, eight members left to take jobs with other fire departments, seven with Houston and one with Killeen. The minimum on-duty strength at the time was only 16- five companies of three members and a battalion chief. That year a Baytown Health Department ambulance was added to alarms for structure fires but resources were still unacceptably thin for working fires.
In 2002, the union decided to go back to the ballot box to resolve the staffing problem, the chief handicap of the fire department for over half a century. Voters were asked to approve a city charter amendment that would require a minimum of four members on duty at each of five stations. The political winds were favorable with the Houston Fire Department fighting a similar battle in the local media after the death of Captain Jay Jahnke in October 2001. Captain Jahnke was leading a three-man crew in a high-rise fire when he and a civilian were killed and several other firefighters badly injured. That Spring the voters passed the charter amendment in a landslide, with 63% in favor, over the strenuous campaign of the chamber of commerce and city hall. This was the first known treatment of fire department staffing levels in a city charter in Texas.
In February, Dale Palmer became only the second fire chief ever appointed from outside the Baytown Fire Department. Chief Palmer came from Coral Gables, FL where he had not only been a chief officer, but also the union president. In August he oversaw the hiring of 19 additional members to support the four-person staffing requirement. He had several plans, including paramedic engine companies and a dive team, but few were possible in the political climate. In July he shepherded council’s approval of a federal Urban Area Security Initiative grant of $750,000 to create a regional hazmat and weapons of mass destruction response team. In August he resigned and left the fire service.
City hall, still smarting from the firefighters’ victories with collective bargaining and staffing, hired Craig Brown in April 2004. Chief Brown had been a battalion chief in the Tulsa Fire Department and had a doctorate in a public administration field. Shortly after arrival, and in the following months, Chief Brown implemented a number of radical changes. Among these, he used recruits assigned to administration to move his furniture, took Battalion 1 out of service as a unit and placed the shift commander on Ladder 1, used Ladder 1’s lieutenant as roving manpower, ended overtime payouts and replaced them with mandatory compensatory time, required that vacancies in equipment operator and officer ranks be filled with acting positions, moved three inspector-investigator lieutenants from administration to shift work, transferred certain fire prevention duties to the building department, and promulgated a new policy on outside employment with retroactive criteria. He was also regularly commuting home to Tulsa on the weekends.
Perhaps it was no coincidence that in July, city staff pushed the charter review committee to remove the staffing requirement from the charter. The charter review committee concurred but the city council elected not to push the issue. Chief Brown's policies and behavior caught up with him. Animosity from the firefighters and his clearly dangerous and illegal policies and abuses of trust led to his resignation in September. Assistant Chief Shon Blake was appointed acting chief. He would soon be named fire chief in his own right.
The Baytown Fire Department’s first line of duty death from injury occurred on December 20, 2004 when rookie Firefighter Nito Guajardo was killed at a house fire. Changes in the aftermath included better and more firefighter-rescue training, including maydays and self rescue. Instructors from the Fire Department of New York were brought in to teach at the Nito Guajardo Memorial Saving-Our-Own Building. This training prop was built by the members with donated lumber and supplies and was the first training structure the BFD had since the drill tower was condemned in the early 1990s.
The department was in need of a better training facility and local industry was underserved for their annual fire brigade training. In December 2008, a committee of BFD members, local industry representatives, and city staff met with architects and engineers to create a master plan for a large training facility with live burn capabilities. The voters approved the use of a special sales tax to fund the field.
In the months of June, July, and August 2009, the department fought 16 working structure fires. In October a longtime goal of permanently staffing aides for the shift commanders was realized. Three new lieutenants were promoted for the Field Incident Technician position.
Aside from the terrible loss of Firefighter Guajardo, the first decade of the new century was almost relentlessly positive for the fire department. The only organizational contraction was the loss of the office of emergency management in 2007.
From March 1975 until the beginning of 2011 the BFD served from five stations, though some were moved and renumbered. The 2010 census reported 72,024 residents, nearly a 64% increase from the 1970 census. Staffing broke 100 for the first time ever in 2010 as new positions for a new Station 6 were filled in stages. On January 31, 2011, the staff for Station 6 went in service as Ladder 4 and ran out of Station 4 while the new Station 6 was being completed. On March 26th, the new Station 6 went in service.
In December 2013, the first live burns at the new training facility were conducted. Baytown would soon host in-house fire academies and contract with local industry to allow their response teams to train at the field. The next year, on April 26th, Station 7 went in service. The opening of Station 7 cut District 1 nearly in half and dramatically improved response times that sometimes approached 10 minutes in parts of the city. The next month the two ladder trucks were moved to Stations 4 and 7 and Ladder 1 became Engine 1. The ladders were cross-staffed by the engine crews at those stations as an interim solution pending the creation of a dedicated truck company.
In March 2015, Battalion 1’s staffing was set at two. While a FIT position had been created in 2009, it was not part of the daily minimum staffing until the “command team” concept of a BC and two lieutenants at the South Command station allowed one member off and two on on any given day.
The next year, 2016, the city decided to scrap the phased approach to building out the fire field and complete it as soon as possible. Late that winter construction began on a drill tower, bathroom building, and some new rescue props while blueprints for a classroom building were finalized.
The week of April 18th the Houston area was hit by major floods, the worst since Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The USAR team deployed for several days in the Cypress area of northwest Harris County to assist with flood evacuation and rescue. The first day of the flood was also the first day Tower 7 was placed in service as a dedicated unit. The new Pierce tower truck was having warranty work done so the unit went in service in Shop 10, which had been serving as Ladder 7 anyway. At the same time Ladder 4 was removed from the running schedule and the size of the standard box was increased to four engines. Tower 7 would be added for high occupancy locations, multistory buildings of three or more floors, commercial structures, and by special call.
The first run for Tower 7, still going by the name of Ladder 7, was to assist with traffic control at a lines-down call during the severe weather. Its first dispatched call came later that day when it ran on a house struck by lightning on South Burnett. The crew from Engine 7 rode Ladder 7 on that call, as they had been cross-staffing the two units until that day, though this was not regular. Tower 7’s first run with just a driver, as it was staffed, came on April 20th for smoke in the nursing home at 5800 West Baker.