Fire Station 68

 

HFD Fire Station 68 is a two-story, modern-construction, brick structure located on Bissonnet at S Gessner in southwest Houston. The station opened, unofficially, in November 1972. The original crew consisted of one Chauffeur (now titled Engineer/Operator) and one Pipeman/Ladderman (now titled Firefighter). The Houston Fire Department was, at the time, working a three-shift schedule; 10-hour days, 14-hour nights.

The first apparatus assigned to the station was a 1967 International Booster. The truck rode and drove like a tank. Members of the station referred to it as “The Red Rocket”. The area surrounding the station was mostly farmland. Virtually every road to the south and west was either dirt or gravel. Highway 59, now known as the Southwest Freeway, ended at Bellaire Blvd. Emergency responses were few in those early days.

The closest fire station was Station 51, located on Bellaire at Bintliff. The dispatchers would often forget that Station 68 existed and would send Engine 51 into 68’s territory. The men assigned to 68’s would stand in the driveway, laugh, and wave at Engine 51 as they drove past. Engine 51’s crew would wave back giving the old “one finger salute” as they disappeared down the long dusty road.

 

The following is a timeline of events from the moment Station 68 first opened its doors. It is far from complete, and more will be added as the information becomes available.

  • 1973 – Station 68 officially opens. The first engine assigned to the station was a 1968 Ward LaFrance. This pumper was transferred to 68’s from Station 8, located on Crawford at Polk in downtown Houston. It was equipped with a 1000 gpm pump and a 5-speed standard transmission. The engine was a Cummings diesel. That was unique due to the fact that all other diesel-powered apparatus in the Houston Fire Department at the time had Detroit diesel engines.

1974

  • 1974 – The first ladder truck was placed in-service at 68’s. It was a 1970 Ward LaFrance that was transferred from Station 21, located on S Main near Loop 610.
  • 1975 – Ambulance 68 is placed into service.
  • 1976 – Station 68 becomes a district house due to a realignment of districts. The district house had been located at Station 48, located on Chimney Rock at Burdine. The Chiefs assigned to 48’s were transferred to 68’s. The Chief’s radio call number was #114. District Chiefs Blackmon, Olgetree, and Ross are believed to be the first District Chiefs assigned to 68’s.
  • 1979 – Station 68 received their first “new” apparatus on May 31. It was a 1978 American LaFrance Tele-Squirt. By now, the area had grown tremendously, and along with the growth, came a great increase in emergency responses. This meant that the apparatus wouldn’t last as long as they used to. The City of Houston wasn’t in the habit of purchasing new apparatus when needed. The normal practice was to refurbish what they had. The turn-around time for such a project was rather long. Years to be more precise. When it came time to replace, repair, or refurbish the “Squirt”, the men at 68’s weren’t about to leave the project to chance. Terry Crawford, along with Gary “Boo” Bourgeois, David “Radar” Kwiatkowski, Robert Todd, Mark Carroll, and an HFD mechanic named Jerry Rosenquist, completely rebuilt the “Squirt”. Of course, others contributed to the effort but the names of those individuals are not available at this time.

1979

  • 1979 – A new district was added at Station 59. This resulted in a change of the radio call number for District 114. It would now be known as District 119.
  • 1983 – The Houston Fire Department changes all of the apparatus radio call numbers. Example: 268 became Engine 68; 368 became Ladder 68; 1168 became Ambulance 68; District 119 became District 68 and so on.

 

  • 1994 – After 22 years in service, Station 68 is remodeled for the first time.

1985

  • 1998 – Fire Districts on the southwest side are realigned. District 68 is reassigned to Station 10, located on Corporate at Clarewood, and 68’s became part of District 82, which now included Stations 82, 68, 59, & 80.
  • 2002 – Medic 68 is converted to Ambulance 68. Squad 68, a 1998 Chevrolet Suburban, is added to Station 68 as well. The Paramedics assigned to Medic 68 are transferred to Squad 68. Firefighter EMT’s assigned to the Engine &Ladder add the Ambulance to their riding rotation. The ALS Squad is part of a new program from the HFD Medical Director to help improve response times. The theory is that busiest existing Medic Units would be converted to BLS Ambulances. An ALS Squad would be placed in service to support 3 to 4 BLS Ambulances. If the EMS call is determined to be a BLS call, the Squad would then be put back in service to assist other BLS Ambulances. This is done throughout the city.

1995

  • 2003 – Station 68 is designated as a Paramedic “rotation” station. This allows Paramedics assigned to Squad 68 to rotate to a Fire Apparatus every third working day, giving them an opportunity not normally given to HFD Paramedics who have traditionally been forced to ride only EMS units.
  • 2006 – Fire Districts throughout the city are realigned, yet again. District 10 is moved to Station 83, losing Stations 73 & 51. The end result is the return of District 68, home to Station 68, 51, 82, & 73 – all busy stations. 68’s flat-bottom Evacuation Boat & Booster Truck are moved to Station 82 to make room for District 68’s unit.

 

2000

  • 2013 – Both Station 68 and District 68 suffer their first Line of Duty Deaths when four firefighters from the A-shift are killed battling the Southwest Inn fire on May 31st: Captain Mathew Renaud & Chauffeur Robert Bebee from Engine 51; and Firefighters Robert Garner & Anne Sullivan from Engine 68. Also critically injured in the fire was Engine 68 Captain William “Iron Bill” Dowling. Later in the fire multiple other firefighters would become injured in the rescue effort. Most seriously injured were Anthony Livesay and Robert Yarbrough – both from Rescue.

 

 

2012

  • 2016 – After 44 years in service, beginning in early January and finishing in mid-July, Station 68 is remodeled a second time. Major improvements to the back parking lot now allowed for all apparatus to “pull-through”, eliminating the need to back-in to the station, which had been the cause of many wrecks involving civilians attempting to whip around the back of the apparatus as they backed in over the years. The original terrazzo floors were also covered with ceramic floor tiles and the large floor to ceiling windows were all replaced with small pocket windows that can be opened for ventilation. During the renovation, Engine 68 and Ambulance 68 remained on site and were housed in temporary quarters (Fire Trailer 68); District 68, Ladder 68, and Squad 68 were all temporarily relocated to Station 82.

2016

 

Things have changed a lot through the years. What was once a slow and often forgotten station out in the middle of a cow pasture has turned in to one of the busiest fire stations in the United States. In the year 2000, according to Firehouse Magazine’s National Run Survey, Station 68 was the busiest fire station in the city of Houston and was listed as the 20th busiest station in the United States.

Today, Station 68 is home to over 60 men & women. There are 14 assigned positions for each of the four shifts, plus ever rotating Paramedic students & Probationary Firefighters. There are three officers on each shift: the District Chief, Senior Captain, and Captain. The Senior Captain commands the ladder truck, driven by an Engineer/Operator, with two Firefighters in the back. The Captain commands the Engine Pumper, driven by another Engineer/Operator, with two additional Firefighters in the back. The Firefighters who are EMTs rotate shift to shift from either apparatus to the Ambulance. Firefighters who are Paramedics also rotate shift to shift from either apparatus to the Squad.

 

In 2016, the five apparatus of Station 68 made 15,355 responses. The following is a breakdown of runs per apparatus and how they ranked among the rest of the department’s matching apparatus:

DISTRICT CHIEF

LADDER

ENGINE

AMBULANCE

SQUAD

912
#2

1,504
#7

3,689
#15

4,776
#7

4,474
#3