City of Houston

As Heat Wave Continues, Houston’s Emergency Vehicles Are Under Scrutiny For AC Problems

It’s the latest fallout between the union and the mayor in a long-running dispute over firefighter salaries and working conditions.

Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Marty Lancton wrote a letter to the mayor on Monday, saying at least a dozen stations had fire trucks without air-conditioning. The accusation further escalated tension between the mayor and the firefighters union.

“Of the 126 units stationed across our fire stations, 22 units are currently in service but in need of AC repair,” the Mayors Office said in a statement. “This represents roughly 17% of the HFD frontline units.”

Houston Fire Chief Samuel Pena responded to the union, saying the department is working evenings and weekends to make AC repairs and keep up with service demand. Then on Wednesday, Mayor Sylvester Turner said his administration has spent $25 million to aggressively replace the aging fleet of fire trucks since 2016.

More ambulances, less fire trucks?

Houston's emergency vehicles are under scrutiny for other reasons, as well. A team of Rice University researchers told a city council committee on Tuesday that the Houston Fire Department needs to rethink its emergency fleet. After Rice students analyzed data from more than two million 911 calls, they found the fire department needs to add five more ambulances, since the vast majority of their callers need an EMS vehicle, not a fire truck. Only 12% of HFD calls are for fire emergencies.

Turner said he agrees with their conclusions.

"The model that is in place right now is inefficient," Turner said. "It doesn't make any sense when you know that 88% are EMS related to be sending the big trucks along with ambulance to that particular call."

Researchers said adding five ambulances in southwest Houston would cut down response times by an average of 10 seconds and help the department respond more effectively overall, reducing the number of times they send multiple vehicles from longer distances.

Subscribe to Today in Houston

Fill out the form below to subscribe our new daily editorial newsletter from the HPM Newsroom.

* required


Jen Rice

Jen Rice


Jen Rice is the City Hall reporter at Houston Public Media, where she covers topics like Houston City Council and housing. Jen was born and raised in Houston's 100-year floodplain. She graduated from Barnard College at Columbia University and has a master's degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs...

More Information