Emergency reports up in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

Emergency reports up in Eagle County

Steve Lynn
Vail CO, Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY ” Eagle River firefighters will probably have their “biggest year ever,” if reported emergencies stay on pace, said John Willson, deputy chief of operations for the Eagle River Fire Protection District.

January was the district’s second busiest month for the district ever with 315 calls. December 2005 was the busiest ever for the district, which serves Eagle County east of Wolcott.

Eagle River firefighters and other emergency workers have been toiling this year more than ever and their workload is only expected to increase by the end of the year, emergency officials say.

So why the increase in calls? This winter’s heavy snows and population growth, particularly in Eagle, are to blame.

Calls for service are defined as whenever an emergency worker responds to a 911 call or decides to take action on their own, such as a police officer pulling over someone for speeding. Those calls may or may not actually turn into an incident, where a police officer files a report, for example.

For some agencies, more calls mean more workers, more money spent on high-priced fuel and the need for more taxpayer money to pay for it all.

January was the busiest month ever for the Western Eagle County Ambulance District, whose workers respond to calls west of Wolcott and as far east as Garfield County. Last week, calls were up 17 percent compared to last year, District Manager Christopher Montera said.

“Since February of 2007, we have nearly doubled our staff from 15 to 28 emergency medical technicians and paramedics in order to keep pace with growth and ensure prompt, professional service,” Montera wrote in an e-mail.

January also was the busiest month for the Eagle County Ambulance District, said Peter Brandes, the district’s operations manager.

He didn’t know whether the district would continue to see an increase this year.

“It’s like a restaurant, you never know how many people are going to show up for dinner,” he said.

More calls means more growth for the district, which hired a new ambulance crew about two years ago. The district hopes to begin building a new ambulance station at Traer Creek in Avon sometime in the next month, he said.

As of May 31, firefighters with the Vail Fire Department have responded to about 52 percent more calls than they had during the same time last year, Chief Mark Miller said. Firefighters still have this summer and winter ahead, and Miller said if the current pace continues, calls will increase by as much as 40 percent from last year.

“That’s extraordinary,” Miller said. “I’ve been in this business 30 years and you just don’t see those kinds of numbers.”

Vail Mountain had its third snowiest winter ever. The constant snowstorms gave firefighters little respite as they traveled to car accidents, including the 58-car pileup near the summit of Vail Pass in March, and a large number of natural gas leaks from gas meters that were pounded by snow, Miller said.

Fire alarms and broken sprinklers during construction in Vail also kept Vail firefighters busy, he said.

Not every emergency agency’s calls have risen in the past couple years. Vail and Avon police have been understaffed, so their calls went down.

Avon Police recently hired new officers recently and the department’s calls are expected to increase this year, said Krista Jaramillo, the department’s spokeswoman.

Vail Police plans to have three more officers patrolling the streets by fall, said Vail Police Cmdr. Susan Douglas.

As of last week, the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office’s calls had increased more than 2 percent this year from last year, according to the agency’s data. Shannon Cordingly, spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Office.

The Greater Eagle Fire Protection District, which serves the county west of Wolcott, and the Eagle Police Department attribute their calls mostly to Eagle’s growth. The town grew from 1,580 in 1990 to almost 5,000 in 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Greater Eagle firefighters had 56 calls in 1986 and 895 calls two decades later, Deputy Chief Chris Blankenship said.

“We definitely support growth, but with that comes an impact on emergency services,” Blankenship said.

Chief Rodger McLaughlin of the Eagle Police Department expects calls to grow by around 1,000 and “maybe more” by the end of this year compared to last year. Officers have been doing more traffic and drunken driving stops, he said.

“We have the busiest months of the year to come: June, July and August,” he said.

The Eagle River Fire Protection District’s calls raised by 28 percent this year compared to the average number of calls it gets by this time of year, Willson said.

More car accidents on icy roads last winter meant less downtime for the district’s firefighters. And they got chances to use their training to help people, which is why they got into firefighting in the first place, Willson said.

“The more calls we’re on the better the morale is for us,” he said.

Staff Writer Steve Lynn can be reached at 970-748-2931 or slynn@vaildaily.com.

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