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Growth keeps Vail Valley firefighters very busy

Dustin Racioppi
dracioppi@vaildaily.com
Vail Valley, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyEagle River Fire district have found themselves responding to several calls at the same time in Colorado's growing Vail Valley
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VAIL VALLEY, Colorado ” When all six of the Eagle River Fire Protection District’s engines responded to calls in Colorado’s Vail Valley at the same time last Christmas, it may have been a sign of things to come. So far, it has been.

As the population in the district continues to increase, so do the emergency calls. By the end of October, the district was about 150 calls short of reaching its total for 2007.



And the busiest time of the year ” when snow and ice hits the valley ” has yet to come, leading district officials to believe that 2008 may be the busiest ever.



“December’s our busy month. I expect we’ll probably run 100 calls more than we’ve ever run before (in a year), about 2,600, maybe 2,700,” the district’s deputy of chief of operations, John Willson, said. “We’re at a point today that we’re running more calls than any other year besides two years ago.”

But if the trend of 2008 continues ” with each month so far higher in call volume than in 2007 ” the record 2,572 calls in 2006 will be smashed. So far, the numbers are showing that will happen.

“Our call volume has just been the highest than any other year,” the district’s chief, Charlie Moore, said. “Every single month we’ve had in 2008 has been the highest with a couple exceptions.”



And there’s been a boom in major calls, Moore said. The district responded to 15 structure fires and 18 wildfires over the summer, “which is something that’s never happened to us before,” Moore said.

With the county’s population increasing each year, it’s a simple equation to Moore.

“More volume leads to more accidents,” he said.

But what’s been somewhat of a new phenomenon to the district is what it saw last Christmas ” calls coming in simultaneously.

“Not only are we getting more calls, we’re getting more at the same time,” Willson said. “We’re running more calls at the same time than ever in the past. That puts a strain on our equipment and personnel.”

It’s not as if the district is in dire straits, though. The rotating 21-man crews are still sleeping, still getting in training hours, still responding to calls swiftly, Moore and Willson said.

Willson said the district has added nine people in the last year to compensate for the increase in calls. And using its resourcefulness, crews have packed more gear and supplies into their trucks in case several engines have to go out on simultaneous calls.

With projections showing at least another couple thousands people in the county by 2010, according to the Eagle County Web site, and the trend continuing upward, staffing and equipment are already on Moore’s mind.

“Sometime in the next 10 years we’ll need a lot more personnel. I just can’t tell you when,” Moore said. “We react when we see development approved and built.”

A new station is planned in Avon, and he said there will be a need for another station in the Minturn area once the proposed Ginn resort moves in. There’s also a possibility of adding a station in Wolcott.

One of the Avon department’s veteran firefighter’s, Bryce Hayes, said it has been interesting to watch the area and department grow since he joined the department in 2001, and for the district to be able to keep pace with it.

“We didn’t have, back in 2001, the station in Cordillera staffed and we didn’t have the Minturn station,” he said. “It’s definitely exciting to get to see it grow. As we grow bigger and bigger we’re adding more people and it becomes safer for us and the public.”

Hayes said he and the rest of the crews in the district are ready and willing to take on the challenges ahead “the influx of calls in December, the increased training and the continuing shift that resembles a more metropolitan-type fire district.

“It’s fun. There’s always something new to learn to learn out there. There’s always the next thing on the horizon,” he said. “We all love the excitement each day brings.”

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


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