Eagle fire posts record numbers in 2008 | VailDaily.com

Eagle fire posts record numbers in 2008

Dustin Racioppi
Eagle, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyDeputy Fire Chief Chris Blankenship and the Greater Eagle Fire District responded to more than 1,000 calls for the first time ever in 2008.

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Last year was meaningful for the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, both in numbers and on a personal level for its staff.

For the first time, the district responded to more than 1,000 calls ” a sign of a sprawling county, among other factors, Chief Jon Jon Asper said.

“You can just see the growth here. Look at the calls we were having 10 years ago and it was half this,” firefighter Mark Currier said. “That 1,000 really meant a lot to us.”

The district’s statistics show that most of the calls were medical problems, and nearly half of those were car accidents.

“Mostly this stuff can be avoided if people just slow down ” 17 percent of those call were in between here and Wolcott,” Asper said. “What do you think that’s from? Not following the rules.”

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With large crowds leaving from Eagle County Regional Airport throughout the winter, Asper said car and truck accidents are almost a sure bet. He thinks the number of accidents will keep rising. Just last week, there were four rollovers on Interstate 70 within an hour, volunteer firefighter Mike Mather said .

“People are always going too fast for conditions,” Asper said. “There’s always somebody who’s got to be somewhere in a hurry.”

What the district can and has been able to reduce is fires. There were only 10 building fires in 2008 and a few cooking and chimney fires. Asper attributes that to the work of his fire marshal, Tom Wagenlander, and fire inspector, Scott Hixon, who Asper said conduct such a heavy-duty fire inspection and safety program that he thinks they’re trying to put him out of business.

“Tom and Scott save more lives with their pen than I do with this entire department, with enforcing codes, writing codes and what have you,” Asper said. “Fire prevention is getting better and better.”

The district is still staying busy with a myriad of different calls, though. Wildland and forest fires will always be in its purview, and river rescues and hazardous materials calls will continue to occur at least a few times each year. So there’s no doubt that while some incidents decrease, there’s plenty of work for the district’s personnel.

“That’s the beautiful gem of where we are. Denver ” they do cars and fires. If it happens, we get it,” Mather said. “It’s so cool to be here because you have to be a jack of all trades.”

Because of the diversity of the workload, the district even attracts volunteers from out of the area. Chris Barbella lives and works in Denver, but spends several days a week in Eagle for the action.

“It’s pretty intense,” he said, and, “it’s competing with a metro.”

Despite recording its busiest year in terms of calls, the district was still able to pull off work that’s done in between the emergencies.

The statistics show that a record number of fire alarm system permits were granted last year, with 69. Company inspections also went up by 20 percent.

“We’re still finding time to train, we’re still finding time to do maintenance,” Asper said. “It’s like the old adage, ‘If you want something done, find somebody who’s really busy.'”

The economy will surely play a factor in how the district makes it through 2009, Asper said. It relies on a mix of funding ” the most reliable being property taxes and fees. But another chunk of money coming into the district is from contributions. However, Asper is confident the work of the year ahead won’t be a problem for his more than 50 staff members.

“We’ll handle it with our budget. The way we’re going to get by is with a lot of really dedicated volunteers,” he said. “Our volunteers are the backbone and the strength of this department. They’re the light and the salvation of this whole damn thing because of the budget constraints.”

Dustin Racioppi can be reached at 970-748-2936 or dracioppi@vaildaily.com.

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