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Vail firefighters wary of consolidation

Andy Stonehouse / Special to the Daily
A proposal to merge the Vail Fire Department with the larger Eagle River Fire District has caused tension at the former agency's Vail Village headquraters, pictured above.
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Craig Davis, a Vail firefighter and president of the union – the Vail Professional Firefighters’ Association – says he and his fellow firefighters aren’t convinced that dissolving their department and joining the Eagle River district will produce either savings or increased safety for upvalley residents.

“I’m adamantly opposed to it,” Davis says. “I’m not opposed to the overall idea of consolidation, but in my mind, this is a hostile takeover.”

The Town of Vail announced Tuesday preliminary plans to begin talks with the Eagle River district, a move which would ultimately have to be approved by Vail voters.



Davis, who drives fire trucks for the Vail department, says he thinks Vail’s well-established fire services could be compromised through any consolidation.

“You’re taking the premier fire department in the valley and selling us down river,” he says. “Their fire-fighting philosophies are 20 years behind ours, although they’re getting close to the national levels. To bring that philosophy into Vail seems totally irresponsible to the community.



“And we’re not comfortable with the idea of taking a very solid, traditional fire department and blending it into a relatively newly formed district. (Eagle River) took a big bite … they need to chew and digest things for a while before taking on more responsibilities,” Davis said.

Valleywide view

Eagle River Fire District Chief Charlie Moore dismisses concerns that his agency’s staff and services fail to meet Vail’s standards.



“Every one of our firefighters is state certified, and there isn’t anybody here that doesn’t meet the National Fire Protection Association standards,” Moore says. “Unfortunately, neither department has enough experience with real structure fires to say that we’re totally proficient, so we all have to go to the Front Range and practice when we can.”

The volunteer fire departments in both Minturn and Red Cliff joined the Eagle River district last year.

Moore says he realizes consolidation is an emotional issue for Vail’s firefighters, but says his main motivation is trying to find a financially expeditious solution to valley fire protection concerns.

“In this economy, none of these local governments are totally flush, so we’re all looking for ways to make the taxpayers’ money go further,” Moore says. “So our approach at this time is really just an analysis. We’ll look into adding staff, building the West Vail fire station and revamping the existing main Vail fire station without a tax increase. Then we’ll report back.”

Jake Savona, vice-president of the Vail firefighter’s union, says he would like to see the Town of Vail and the Eagle River district take a little more time before launching headlong into consolidation discussions.

“I’m not totally against consolidation, but it seems like they’re kinda rushing into this when there’s so many things that have to be considered – and there’s been no study on the idea so far,” Savona says.

Savona says many in the Vail department are a bit suspicious of the Eagle River fire district’s relatively short existence as an independent entity.

“Consolidation might be a good thing for the future, when their district is a little older and more mature, but right now, we’re not excited about this,” Savona says. “Frankly, I’m concerned about their staffing levels. The town thinks that everybody will see the savings, but if they can’t run the whole district to national standards, that’s a problem.

“We’re very concerned about a lot of issues the town seems to be overlooking.”

West Vail waits

Savona also says he’s also unhappy the effort to push for consolidation will mean a continued delay of the construction of a West Vail fire detachment – a project that’s been promised for 22 years.

But Moore says, should a consolidation proposal be approved, he’s committed to making sure that Vail’s services are boosted as soon as possible.

“If we end up signing agreements with the Town of Vail and sign a contract for pre-inclusion – and if the voters approve it – we would start design of the new fire station immediately and have a building in the ground in late 2004 or early 2005,” Moore says. “Then we could start work on the main Vail station. We would commit to a timeline to get these projects done.”

Vail Fire Chief John Gulick says he understands his staff’s concerns and asks for a little patience as the town government examines the larger financial picture posed by consolidation.

“There’s a certain excitement about the idea, but that’s mostly due to a stirring of the pot … the employees have a ton of questions,” Gulick says. “Consolidation has worked well in some other areas in Colorado and the rest of the country, and it’s also been a failure in some places. Right now, it’s just a bit too premature to say what the outcome might be.”

Gulick points to the consolidation of Durango’s regional fire services as a success story, but says he’s seen other consolidation efforts fall apart – such as the recent push to create a North Metro Denver Fire District, which ended in the various communities involved going through the expense of re-establishing their own fire departments.


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