One interesting benefit of living in a community like The Woodlands, where land use and infrastructure are designed for optimal effectiveness and aesthetic appeal, is that generally things run so smoothly we are seldom aware of its working parts. Foundational services for public welfare, for example, are often taken for granted. Until we need them.
The Woodlands Fire Department (TWFD) is one such entity. Born humbly in the early ‘70s with a handful of volunteer firefighters working from a trailer on Grogan’s Mill Road, the organization has continually risen to the many challenges of a changing industry and flourishing population. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it.
Today’s TWFD is a model emergency response task force, highly regaled and fully prepared for any need in the community. In fact, on the ISO (Insurance Services Office) scale of 1-10, which is the recognized measure of how well protected a community is by its fire department, TWFD has held the highest rating of ISO 1 since 2013. A feat less than one percent of all fire departments in the U.S. can claim. Less than one percent! This level of achievement requires excellence in staffing, training, communications, community outreach, as well as strong, continued support from civic leaders.
The Woodlands Township has long understood the importance of providing residents with the best possible emergency response services. “With an ISO 1 rating, The Woodlands Fire Department continues to be one of the elite departments in the United States,” says The Woodlands Township Chairman, Gordy Bunch. “Achieving this goal has not only kept pace with our growth, it helps hold our residential and commercial property insurance premiums at a manageable level. This is just one of many reasons The Woodlands is so special,” said Bunch.
Line personnel at TWFD number well over one hundred these days, and they are no longer just firefighters. They are career men and women of the highest caliber, cross-trained as EMTs, paramedics, and fully equipped with Advanced Life Saving technology and gear. They are on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Additional department teams specialize and train for response to hazardous materials calls, collapse, heavy, and high-angle rescue, swift water and trench rescue. Bolstered with a gleaming fleet of specialized engines, trucks, ambulances and rescue boats, TWFD is prepared for any fire, medical or rescue emergency. And with eight fire stations now in The Woodlands, typical response time is a reassuring 4.71 minutes.
Station One on Grogan’s Mill Road is the communications hub for TWFD, as well as Montgomery County 911. Twelve round-the-clock dispatchers field emergency calls. During large community events like The Woodlands Marathon, or natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey, Station One’s large Fire Com room becomes command central. Numerous computers and large, elevated television screens with live feed from multiple locations allow emergency managers to work alongside one another, monitoring and directing conditions in real time.
A 20,000 square foot, state-of-the-art Emergency Training Center near I-45 and Highway 242 facilitates the continually honed expertise of our firefighters. It is also the location for public education. Because safety begins with citizens, TWFD offers regular CPR, first aid, and fire prevention instruction to the community.
Strong leadership by a succession of five fire chiefs has been key to the department’s success. After fourteen years of stellar management and direction, Chief Alan Benson retired earlier this year. A nationwide search for his replacement is underway, however Deputy Chief Doug Adams currently serves as Interim Fire Chief.
Just as life these days is not as simple as it used to be, neither are our emergencies. TWFD Battalion Chief Jason Washington says, “We don’t get cats out of trees anymore, but if your house is on fire, if you think you’re having a heart attack or whenever there is a life at risk, The Woodlands Fire Department is fully prepared to respond.”
Photography Courtesy Derrick Bryant