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Honor Flight arrival

Veterans in AFD

At the Austin Fire Department, we firmly believe in supporting our members who wear two uniforms. Several people in our department are either on active or reserve military duty, and it is our honor and privilege to support them and their families while serving our country.

“It has always been our philosophy that service to the community doesn’t begin and end with your shift at a fire station,” said Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr. “Whether you are serving your country—or supporting those who do—it’s a team effort. And we are incredibly proud of both those in our ranks who are serving in the military, and the fine men and women of the Austin Fire Department who support those efforts.”

The Austin Fire Department has been recognized as a model for other public safety organizations for how they take care of employees serving in the Guard and Reserve without compromising its mission.

Texas Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Executive Director Dwain James has stated, “Chief Kerr’s leadership and commitment to her officers has drawn praise from within the department and throughout the City. The Austin Fire Department’s management philosophy is consistent with the City of Austin’s initiatives on supporting its reservist employees and veterans. This support is a key reason why Austin received the prestigious Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.” (Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve {ESGR} is a Department of Defense agency established in 1972 that seeks to promote a culture in which all American employers support and value the military service of their employees. ESGR recognizes outstanding support, increases awareness of the law, and resolves conflicts through mediation. More information is available at www.esgr.mil or www.txesgr.net.)

The City of Austin’s Veteran Consultant Allen Bergeron works closely with the Austin Fire Department’s military personnel and their management staff. Bergeron says, “Through effective communication, training, and a sound military reintegration process, the Austin Fire Department has proven to be a fine example of how other employers should support their military employees. Chief Kerr and the entire AFD truly go above and beyond to support their military firefighters and their families. It’s our way of saying ‘thank you’ for their commitment to serve.”

We have been honored with several awards for our support of our veterans, including:

  • Texas Committee for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (EGSR) awarded the prestigious Patriot Award to four individuals in recognition of their extraordinary support to AFD firefighters who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.
  • Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to two individuals for going “above and beyond” in support of a member and his family while he was deployed. Employers qualify for recognition when they practice leadership and personnel policies that support employee participation in the Guard and Reserve beyond what the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) requires. USERRA is a federal law intended to ensure that persons who serve or have served in the Armed Forces, Reserves, National Guard or other “uniformed services” are not discriminated against.
  • Division Chief David Brietzke received the Firefighter of the Year award from the American Legion, Department of Texas. This is the Legion’s highest honor.
  • Fire Specialist Chris Dibrell received the Outstanding Firefighter Gold Medal Award by the Veterans of Foreign Wars/District 28. Fire Specialist Dibrell was chosen for this award because he, “…best exemplifies the dedication and goodwill demonstrated by the countless other public servants in his or her chosen field.”
  • Firefighter Coitt Kessler received the Firefighter of the Year award from the Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars for his many accomplishments both inside and outside of the Department.

Several of our members have received Purple Hearts for their bravery and heroism. One interesting story occurred in 2014, when we took official possession of a Purple Heart that belonged to Clarence Doherty, who worked at AFD Station #7 back in the early 1940s. He was killed in action in WWII in Tunisia, North Africa on April 9, 1943. His Purple Heart was purchased at an estate sale in Killeen and after some diligent research, was donated to the Austin Fire Museum. We held a ceremony on the 71st anniversary of Doherty’s death to receive the medal. Four of the six living remaining AFD WWII veterans were present, as well as a captured Nazi flag that includes Doherty’s name as “killed in action.” There is a plaque at Station #7 that is Doherty’s only marker on US soil, as he is buried in Tunisia. The local chapter of Military Purple Hearts #1919 was also present, as well as two current AFD Firefighters who received Purple Hearts in Iraq.