Retiring Arlington fire chief says new station will provide 'equalized' coverage across community
Fire Chief Don Crowson has said throughout the years he bleeds "Arlington fire engine red."
He rose through the ranks after joining the department in 1983, before being appointed chief and director of emergency management services in 2010.
"The fire department really represented an opportunity for me to sort of claw my way out of, you know, less than perfect circumstances. And I'm like everybody else around here. I kind of bleed Arlington fire engine red because we live it 24-7," Crowson said.
Crowson describes Arlington like most other city officials or council members: one with big-city issues. During his tenure with the department, the city contended with myriad natural disasters; new homeland security threats after Sept. 11, 2001; major sporting events including Super Bowl XLV and two World Series; and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're still sort of a Goldilocks city," he said. "We're just the right size where we still know each other and the bureaucracy moves relatively quickly. We're more agile than the bigger cities," he said.
And it's time for a new leader to put that agility and dynamic to the test. Crowson will retire May 31. The city will hold a retirement ceremony for Crowson at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Esports Stadium Arlington.
The department under Crowson implemented emergency response plans for high-profile sporting events; created the largest city team in North Texas to dispose of explosives; and created the Arlington Independent School District Fire Academy. As chair of the county's 9-1-1 Emergency Assistance District Board, Crowson advocated for next-generation communication technology.
The department also oversaw myriad responses to disasters including freezes, tornados and major floods, as well as offered relief to Hurricane Katrina evacuees and Hurricane Harvey in Houston.
His final annual report presentation this spring included parts of the department's 2025 strategic plan. The list of goals included continued evolution to address homeland security threats, more integration of health care services into medical response and a heavier presence in the entertainment district.
The next chief will also steer the department through an "exponential growth" in emergency calls and the construction of Fire Station No. 18 in central Arlington. Voters approved $30.1 million in funding for the station during the May bond election.
The station will serve central Arlington, where the department has seen an increased number of calls.
"For me, it's the last piece of the puzzle here in Arlington from a fire station perspective," Crowson said. "That would provide equalized coverage across the community."
The fire department dispatched 57,292 calls for service in fiscal year 2022. That's a roughly 30.3% increase from 2020.
Crowson also led the city through COVID-19 response, including emergency calls, testing and vaccination sites. The department operated a vaccination site with county, state and federal emergency officials in AT&T Stadium, after critically praised stints at Esports Stadium Arlington and Globe Life Field.
The city now has a public health unit located on south Cooper Street. The department also hired a chief epidemiologist and public health nurse.
"There was nothing we were saying 'no' to," Crowson said. "We were trying to help out every way we could."
City Manager Trey Yelverton said Crowson has served the community well, and for a length of time that is uncommon.
"That level of commitment and sustained effort to our city, it's unparallelled," Yelverton said.
Crowson said after years managing the department and leading policy discussions, he's looking forward to spending time with loved ones and working around the house.
"I've done my share here and I'm very proud of it. But the people I've been working for all along the way has been my family," he said.
Selecting a new fire chief
The fire department—and its next chief—will likely work on staffing, creating more training opportunities for emergency response and reducing response times to calls, Yelverton said.
The department will also have to adapt to different types of activity in the entertainment district. The district will gain a new convention center; nearly 1,000 hotel rooms; and a luxury apartment development in the next couple of years.
"I do think we have to monitor the activity level, but then also the changing activity from it being kind of a place where you live, work and play as opposed to just play," Yelverton said.
The district hosted two World Series games and a Super Bowl XLV.
The city has received around 50 applications for fire chief from 16 states, as well as international applicants, Yelverton said.
Much like the forums held before Al Jones was hired as police chief, the city will host community discussions at 6:30 p.m. June 7 at Esports Stadium Arlington.
"We'll ask all of our final candidates to come out and answer questions from the public," Yelverton said.
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