Vail Fire seeking a big federal grant |

Vail Fire seeking a big federal grant

Grant would pay to hire six new firefighters

Vail firefighters are often first on the scene for traffic accidents on Vail Pass.
Daily file photo

Federal grant applications are never a sure thing, but Vail’s fire department will ask this year for $2 million to boost staffing.

The Vail Town Council at its Jan. 4 meeting approved applying for the grant under a program called Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER.

The department will ask for roughly $2 million. That will pay for three years’ worth of pay and benefits for six firefighters. The town will have to pay for personal protective equipment, radios and other gear.

If the grant comes through, the department will look for firefighters who are also paramedics.

Vail Fire and Emergency Services Chief Mark Novak said the new people will help the town meet minimum staffing under a federal “standards of cover” guideline.

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Novak said the upgrade will allow the department to increase its per-truck staffing from three to four people per truck. That can increase efficiency by roughly 40%, he said.

The department’s firefighters now are all certified emergency medical technicians. Paramedic certification is a higher standard of care.

Novak said the request for certified paramedics — two per shift if the grant comes through — can speed responses to calls in which people require medical care.

Novak said firefighters at the town’s three stations — East Vail, Vail Village and West Vail — can now make it to virtually any address in town in roughly 4 minutes. Ambulance dispatch can take a bit longer, since the ambulance station in Vail is at Vail Health Hospital.

Ambulance response can take even longer for calls on Interstate 70 on Vail Pass.

Novak said increase in service levels could also improve Vail’s insurance rating, which could save property owners on their insurance bills.

Council members ultimately agreed to the grant application — with Travis Coggin and Jen Mason opposed, favoring a smaller request that would fund firefighters certified at the lower emergency medical technician level.

But representatives of the Eagle County Paramedic Services — the local ambulance district — questioned the need for paramedics on fire trucks.

The district sent a handful of letters to the council, and officials joined the Zoom meeting to further express those views.

District co-CEO Jim Bradford told council members that while the district supports the grant, he questioned the need for people certified both as firefighters and paramedics.

Bradford noted people with combination of skills are “very expensive,” adding that he’s worried about continuing training and possible dilution of skills.

Will Dunn, the district’s senior clinical manager, added that it’s “too hard” to keep up with current skills and protocols, noting that the district doesn’t hire part-time paramedics.

The prospect of having higher-level first responders on the first vehicles at an accident scene appeals to Mayor Kim Langmaid.

Langmaid noted that on a recent trip back to Vail from the Front Range, she witnessed an SUV flip over in front of her vehicle.

“We want to make sure we’re working with (the ambulance district) very proactively,” Langmaid said, adding she believes that can happen.

If the grant comes through, of course.

What’s the request?

Program: SAFER, Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response.

Rationale: Boost staffing in order for the Vail Fire Department to meet federal minimums for staffing.

Cost: Roughly $2 million to cover six new people over three years.

When will we know? Between July and September

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