The City of Arlington has announced that Fire Chief Don Crowson is retiring after a 40-year tenure with the City.
Crowson joined the Arlington Fire Department in 1983 and worked his way through the ranks, becoming the City’s first medical operations chief within 15 years. After holding other chief officer roles, including six years as assistant fire chief, Crowson became Arlington’s fire chief and director of emergency management in 2010. His retirement ceremony is set for 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, 2023, at Esports Stadium Arlington, 1200 Ballpark Way.
Among his numerous accomplishments, Crowson led the City’s coronavirus pandemic response, developed comprehensive emergency response plans to ensure a safe experience for residents and visitors at high-profile sports and entertainment events, championed improvements to Tarrant County’s 9-1-1 system, and helped create the Arlington ISD Fire Academy.
“It’s a 24/7 world, but I enjoy that. This is still a job I still rush to get to every day,” Crowson said. “The decision to retire wasn’t easy, but 40 years is a long time.”
City Manager Trey Yelverton describes Crowson as the consummate civil service professional who has spent his career preparing Arlington to response to all types of public emergency situations, including natural and man-made disasters, Homeland security threats, and public health concerns.
“Being a fire chief is a hard job. There are so many things to worry about, so many technical and tactical things to consider. He’s taken that on, on behalf of our community, and served us well. That is quite a legacy to leave behind,” Yelverton said.
The City of Arlington, which received nearly 50 applications for the emergency management role, expects to announce its next fire chief in the coming weeks, Yelverton said. A community forum with the finalists is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 7 at Esports Stadium Arlington, 1200 Ballpark Way.
Under Crowson’s leadership, the Fire Department created the Office of Special Events to handle the growing number of high-profile events in the Entertainment District. These include not only Rangers and Cowboys home games but concerts, the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA All-Star Game, WrestleMania and many other events at AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Field and Choctaw Stadium that help draw millions of visitors to Arlington each year. In addition to a Hazardous Material team that uses state-of-the-art detection technology, Arlington has the largest Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams in North Texas, second to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
“Safety is the No. 1 priority at any mass gathering facility. If the venues are not safe, nobody wins. We want a positive fan experience,” Crowson said. “Because we have such a robust partnership with both the Cowboys and the Rangers, residents and visitors get just that - they get a safe, fun experience. We want that experience to reoccur again and again.”
In his role as Chair of the Tarrant County 9-1-1 Emergency Assistance District Board, Crowson has advocated for additional funding support for next-gen technology so that Arlington and surrounding cities can continuously provide reliable, accurate, responsive and effective communication networks and services to the millions of residents and visitors in our county.
“The technology shift is dramatic and the next generation of 911 is coming. The ability to send video or pictures is coming,” Crowson said. “We’ve got to advance our cities’ capacities in these areas. We don’t want to be left behind.”
Over four decades, Crowson has also helped Arlington respond swiftly to a range of natural disasters, including tornados, major floods, extreme ice/snow events as well as three weeks of offering emergency sheltering for evacuees after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. During his tenure, the Arlington Fire Department aided the State of Texas by responding to a number of major emergencies from wildland fires in California to flooding in Houston, where Arlington Fire units protected local citizens during Hurricane Harvey as AFD operated out of Houston fire stations.
“I feel like I’ve lived in a movie,” Crowson said.
In 2017, Crowson was honored by the American Medical Association as the recipient of the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Career Public Servant on the Local Level. He is the first fire chief in the country to receive this honor.
Crowson also led Arlington’s COVID-19 pandemic response, which included mass testing and mass vaccinations efforts. In all, the Arlington Fire Department facilitated more than 240,000 COVID-19 vaccinations. Now, the Fire Department is continuing its work to research and address chronic health concerns within the community through the Public Health Unit.
“One of the things I’m most proud of my career is we have gotten into an area I wanted to get into – which was more community-level connectivity,” Crowson said. “We’re not just firefighters. We’re problem solvers. We can get to solutions because people trust us. We can do more than people think we can do. We prove that every day.”
Crowson also implemented Light Emergency Response Units called Squads in 2012. Squads are two-person teams that response to medical calls for service in light duty trucks, which keeps the department’s heavier fleet vehicles available for more serious incidents. The Squad Units have helped improve response times, overall fire department response capacity, and saved the City fuel costs and vehicle wear-and-tear expenses, Crowson said. Arlington now has eight Squads that operate 24 hours a day across the city.
Preparing the public safety workforce of tomorrow has also been another of Crowson’s priorities during his career. Crowson’s collaboration with the Arlington Independent School District and Tarrant County College led to creation of the AISD Fire Academy. The dual credit program helps prepared students from Arlington’s six high schools for a career as a firefighter/EMT after graduation. The academy began in 2011 at Sam Houston High School, where Crowson himself had graduated. Those who complete the academy graduate with 24 college hours, a certifiable status with the Texas Commission on Fire Protection and a national registry EMT certification. Over the years, more than a dozen skilled academy graduates have become Arlington firefighters with other graduates joining fire departments in Tarrant County and beyond.
During his retirement, Crowson said he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Ginger, their children and their grandchildren.