Don’t miss meeting if you value safety
The following is a statement by Vail Professional Firefighters Association:
On Feb. 4 at 7 p.m., the Vail Town Council will take its final public input on the issue of expanding emergency services in the Vail valley. The council vote that will follow this forum will be the culmination of over two decades of promises, surveys, and personal commitments.
Although the discussion will focus on the West Vail area and its need for a fire station and a responding crew of firefighters, the real issue of public safety in Vail goes much farther than the streets of West Vail.
This vote will affect the entire Vail community. Not only right now, but for future generations. This vote will directly affect Vail Fire and Emergency Services’ ability to balance the fire protection and emergency medical services to which every citizen in this community is entitled.
Twenty years ago, West Vail was seriously considering de-annexing itself from the town of Vail. Experiencing the rapid growth of new homes and the development of a sizeable commercial area, local residents were disappointed with Vail’s lack of response to repeated requests for increased municipal services. These services included street maintenance, law enforcement, snow removal, and fire protection.
As West Vail’s organized dissatisfaction reached judicial levels, the town of Vail agreed to a “contract for services,” essentially a document promising increased services in all areas of community concern. Included in this document was Court Order No. 80cv25, stating that a West Vail fire station was to be built no later than Dec. 31, 1985, by the town of Vail. And so began the journey.
Twenty years, three studies, 12 councils, five town managers and three fire chiefs later, West Vail is still waiting for the fulfillment of that promise. Of course, 20 years later the problem is worse. More growth and development, and the aging of existing buildings and population combine for even greater vulnerability to fire and medical emergencies. And all of this in an area that has shown itself vulnerable to wildland fires, having had two major fires in the last five years.
For the residents of West Vail, a fire truck is still 10 minutes away, and in an emergency, waiting 10 minutes is like waiting 10 hours.
But the public forum on Feb. 4 and the subsequent vote by Vail Town Council are about more than fulfilling a promise or ignoring it. It is more than acknowledging the studies of the past that have analyzed and strongly recommended fire protection facilities in West Vail. It is about a commitment to a balanced and safe response by emergency services throughout all of Vail, whether it is a homeowner on Black Gore Drive, a guest staying at the Tivoli, or a ski tech working at Gart Sports.
In addition, this public forum is about making firefighters as safe as the public they serve, by bringing their response time and distance up to acceptable national standards. In Vail Valley, fire and medical emergencies are occurring not only more often, but also more often together. These multiple alarms mean fire companies are being pulled in all directions, leaving large areas unprotected until these emergencies are resolved. This puts tremendous stress on responding firefighters and the pressure to make the right decision becomes one of mixed values instead of sound strategy. In Vail, simultaneous alarms occur over 350 times a year.
Vail Fire and Emergency Services are ranked number one in customer satisfaction every year in the town of Vail Public Survey. Ironically, it is this perceived approval that is posing the greatest threat to the agency and the public. The survey simply means that WHEN the fire department gets there, they do a good job. In an effort to praise the work of the firefighters through these surveys, and with all good and noble intentions, the public has
left firefighters vulnerable to political defeat. The public must now educate themselves and bring this new awakening to the Town Council.
The Hud Worth property next to West Vail Texaco is the last parcel that can be utilized for a fire station. In addition to a fire station, this property has been earmarked for employee-subsidized housing, but it is in danger of becoming housing only. Outside organizations are pressuring the town of Vail for this exclusive opportunity, and the idea of a fire station could simply disappear.
The town of Vail has never built a Fire Department building. A West Vail fire station would represent Vail’s first structural commitment to fire protection in Vail. Current facilities were generated by a district through mill levies and NOT sales tax. These buildings have never been expanded or rebuilt, simply repaired and remodeled. The main fire station is over 30 years old, and is obsolete and inefficient. If nothing else, a West Vail fire station would take the pressure off a building about to burst.
In 2003, the Vail Town Council has created a written priority list of their responsibilities to the public. First on that list is public safety. This written commitment – combined with Vail’s mission statement emblazoned on the chamber wall above their heads, “To Provide Superior Service to All the Residents and Guests of Vail” – appear to make the vote for increased fire protection a sure thing. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
The current council is decidedly against “such an amenity,” even though the town manager has advised the council that the fire department’s grade only rates a “C.”
They are convinced the public does not care. This is because they choose to interpret the public’s gratitude for protection and life-saving service they have experienced in the past with public satisfaction today.
If not pressured by public demand, the Vail Town Council will vote against increased fire protection and emergency services. At a time when this council is courting hundreds of millions of dollars to privately fund the creation of a new village core, the idea of a small facility in West Vail is a problematic distraction silently dispersed and quickly forgotten.
We cannot allow such a consequential decision to be made behind lock and key. If you see the future of Vail as more than extravagant parks and copper-topped buildings, and you feel a responsibility to the health and well-being of all people living in Vail, then you must attend the meeting of Feb. 4 and make your opinion known.
To be silent is to support the vote against the increased protection of life and property. Make your voice heard. Tomorrow will be too late.
Feb. 4., 2003. 7 p.m. Vail Town Council Chambers.
It is your town. Your council.
For more information or questions call the Vail Professional Firefighters Association at 390-1593.
Among Vail’s volunteers, we tracked down Bob “Buckwheat” Buckley, Tony White and Brooke Franke Gagnon. They all said it was tough, that they loved it and suggested that if you try it you’ll love it too.