Austin Texas Fire Chief Vacations as Austin Area Burns

Austin Texas Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr chose to remain on her golf vacation in Colorado as deadly wildfires burned near her city. Statesman.com reports “As fires tore through hundreds of Central Texas homes, Austin officials dispatched nearly 200 of their firefighters to help across the region and issued an urgent request Sunday for 25 off-duty firefighters to report to work.
But Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr stayed in Colorado for a Labor Day weekend golfing trip, leaving subordinates largely in charge of her department’s response while keeping in touch by cellphone and email.”

This is an outrage. At the same time thousands of Texans were repeating the call for help from retired and off duty firefighters on Twitter and Facebook the fire chief of the largest city in the region teed it up. If morale in Austin was not low before it is now. As a former firefighter I cannot understand this line of thinking. Obviously fighting fire is not her top priority.

9 Comments

  • guest says:

    surprised to see all this criticism. For the record, I have never been a fan of RMK, but her presence for this fire is useless. I think people don’t understand what “chief” means at a department this size. it is not the saltiest veteran that makes fires go out by looking at them. It’s a purely administrative position. Budget decisions and union negotiations are what she does, all of which would have been suspended during this time. On an actual emergency scene, this womans command authority is zero, and anyone above a division chief is nothing but a hindrance to mitigation of the incident. Her absence, in all likelihood, improved efficiency, as there was one less asshole to be briefed and flown around the scene in a chopper.

  • Popknot says:

    If her subordinates know their job, they wouldn’t need her to return.

    • Anonymous says:

      That would hold true if she were the CEO of a paper factory but her job is to lead people that by nature run to disaster. The job of leading people like that requires someone that is that way herself. 
      She proved to her department from top to bottom that no matter what the disaster she will weigh whether it is important enough to attend. Firefighting is a special job, unique in that it requires teamwork under pressure and any failure by any team member at any time can cost the lives of civilians or teammates. 
      At all times you assume your command has your back. When I was working I knew if my chief was on scene he had our back. He was the team captain and we knew that.
      If Ms. Kerr were my chief I would ask myself how dedicated to the team she really is.

      • victoria says:

        Good points, FirefighterBlog.  Rhoda Mae likes to brag that she’s a 4th generation firefighter.  That means her pa, her grandpa and her great-grandpa must be writhing in shame.  Since 9/11 our nation’s firefighters have been the genuine heroes of America, because when everybody else was trying to escape from the Twin Towers, the firefighters were running up the stairs to save people.  Some of them directly disobeyed the orders of their superiors in order to bring down burned victims, and lost their own lives in the process.  I guess if Rhoda Mae had been near either New York or D.C. on that day, she would have high-tailed it to some Jersey golf course.  As a woman I am especially disgusted with her.  She needs to get into some line of work that doesn’t include dedication–maybe get a job as a caddy or something.

  • WTF says:

    WTF! I stand here a woman completely and utterly disappointed in the fact the she could not care enough about the men and women who risked their livess while she got in a few games of golf.  As CHIEF in a moment like this you do not rely on your Deputy Chiefs and or subordinates to make decisions that will ultimately decide the fate of thousands. That is why you were hired Ms. Chief!  Your outta here  – I think you should just stay where you are – in Colorado. You are not needed here.

  • Anonymous says:

    I cannot accept that excuse. As a firefighter you live for the “big one”. I posted this on Facebook and believe it. It’s like a vulcanologist staying away as a volcano gears up or a geologist showing little interest in a 9.0 earthquake. Like a doctor in the CDC turning his back on a pandemic in his backyard. A general taking leave during a major battle. Some people are not meant for the job they suit up for.

    She should have been on a flight immediately for home.

    • Real Fireman says:

      I see your point of course. However, your examples are extremely specialized positions in their world of work. I’m certain that they have their menions who do a lot of their work, but any more these days, specially in larger city fire departments, the Fire Chief is more of a political figure. Not to discredit many of whom have way more knowledge and training than others. But, I can see how, politically, it would look better if she were there. But let’s face it, every time there is a large forest fire, the chief of the superintendent of the forest service doesn’t always go. Heck, the president just stops by the war zone from time to time to give advise. I’m sure she would have liked to have been there, but we all know how expensive last minute plane tickets are. I wouldn’t put that on my card or on a city card no matter the circumstances.

  • Real fireman says:

    Well apparently their vacation schedules didn’t match up. And apparently her Deputy Chiefs and other fire chiefs aren’t capable of filling in for her. She has to have a vacation too. If she was in contact via email and phone, then I think she did a pretty good job maintaining her position as Fire Chief even when out of the region. Most certainly the fire would not have gone out the second she landed at the airport. Give the CHIEF a break.