Retired fire truck stays in the valley |

Retired fire truck stays in the valley

NWS Fire Truck Donation 1 DT 1-19-12

EDWARDS, Colorado – Old fire trucks rarely retire – usually, they’re passed down from bigger, more affluent departments to smaller ones, eventually ending up as parts for other trucks. But an Eagle River Fire Protection District pumper truck has earned the mechanical equivalent of a long retirement in tall, sweet grass.

The truck, nicknamed “Mother” many years ago, has been donated to the fire science department at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards. There, the truck will live out its days as a trainer, helping students get familiar with the basics of a fire truck. It’s still-strong water pump will also help students – and firefighters from around the region – in “live fire” training at a college facility in Dotsero.

While the truck’s still functional, Eagle River Fire Protection District Chief Karl Bauer said the vehicle’s age was starting to require enough maintenance that it simply wasn’t cost-effective as a front-line truck any more. It was also built in the days when fire trucks had open passenger compartments, which are more dangerous in an accident.

But while the truck isn’t safe or reliable enough to answer when 911 calls, Kurt Keiser, who runs the college’s fire science program, said it still has great value as a trainer.

“On Dec. 17 we did a valley-wide training, and that rig pumped all day,” Keiser said. “My students need to see water running, and this rig will do it.”

At the moment, the college’s firefighter training school has about 20 students every term. Classwork can take anywhere from a single semester for a simple firefighting certificate – usually obtained by volunteers – to two years or so to become a full-fledged firefighter. Many of those students end up at either the Vail or Eagle River fire departments, where they’ll serve apprenticeships of two to three years.

Those “resident” firefighters receive a small wage and a place to live in exchange for education and experience.

Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller said having the truck available for training will help his resident corps, calling the donation a “win win for everybody.”

“Our budgets are diminishing – we have to figure out how to work smarter,” Miller said.

Bauer said the decision to donate the truck was to help strengthen the ties between the departments and the college. The truck will be used for joint training between the departments’ resident firefighters. It will also be used when veteran firefighters from other departments come to train at the college’s live fire training facility in Dotsero. With a truck already on hand, departments just lose a bit of manpower, instead of both people and equipment.

Battalion Chief Mikel Kerst has seen plenty of equipment come and go during about 24 years with Eagle River Fire. Kerst came to Avon about six months after the truck arrived, and he drove to his first emergency in it.

That first time was the most memorable.

Responding to a bus accident on Interstate 70 on a snowy winter night, Kerst was driving “Mother” to a spot roughly where the Post Boulevard exit is now. What he didn’t know was that on an icy road, the truck’s engine brake would lock up the rear wheels if he let off the gas pedal. Given the conditions, that put the truck immediately into a pretty hairy slide and spin.

That left his partner in the passenger seat to tell the Vail dispatch center, “We’re at the scene … we’re on the scene … we’re past the scene…” as the truck slid by.

Fortunately, the truck and its crew were unharmed and able to turn around and get safely back to the accident.

Since then, Kerst and other firefighters have spent a lot of time in that truck, so seeing the truck leave front-line service is a little bittersweet, although there’s more sweet than bitter in his emotions.

While local firefighters are happy to have a new training tool available, Keiser put the donation in a slightly different perspective.

“It’s going to continue to serve the people who paid for it – the taxpayers,” he said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or

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