We’re all in this together — mutual aid works because Vail Valley fire crews work together
Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect across all of Eagle County on Friday, June 15. Here’s what that means:
• Campfires are allowed only in designated fire grates in developed campgrounds.
• No fires of any type are allowed outside of developed areas.
• No smoking, except in an enclosed vehicle or building.
• No use of explosive materials, including explosive targets.
• No welding except in areas cleared of vegetation.
• No use of internal combustion engines without working spark arresters.
For more information about fire restrictions and the latest on wildfires in Colorado, go to www.vaildaily.com.
Most of the time, firefighters are a self-sufficient group.
Sometimes, though, they need some help. It’s called mutual aid.
Take this past week, for instance.
As Vail fire crews were stomping out a small fire in the East Vail campground, a westbound semi-truck caught fire on Interstate 70. Crews from the Eagle River Fire Protection District stepped in to cover Vail fire stations, so Vail would have fire protection.
When the Bocco fire broke out Saturday afternoon, June 9, three miles north of Wolcott, the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District was the first to respond. Because the Bocco fire is in Eagle’s district, and because it was an all-hands-on-deck event, most Eagle firefighters headed to Wolcott. That left Eagle’s station short-handed.
Crews from Vail and Glenwood Springs rushed to Eagle’s fire station Saturday to make sure Eagle had the fire protection it needed.
Two Vail Valley crews are fighting the 416 fire near Durango: The Eagle and Gypsum fire districts sent an engine crew, and Vail sent a wildland crew.
That does not mean crews are leaving their communities vulnerable, Vail Fire Chief Mark Novak said.
“The number of people we have on duty doesn’t change, even though we have a crew on duty in the 416 fire,” he said.
“We can have assistance from other departments, whether it’s 10 minutes, or an hour away,” Cupp said.
Cupp was an hour away when he checked in, fighting the Buffalo Mountain fire near Silverthorne.
It’s cyclical, since many of the firefighters in Silverthorne sped to Wolcott to help fight the Bocco fire. Units from Eagle River, Vail, Grand County, Garfield County. Gypsum Fire were in Wolcott shortly after the flames went up, getting ahead of that fire and containing it at the 415 acres it reach a couple hours after it was touched off.
“We’re a one station FD, and yet we had 12 engines there in short order,” Cupp said. “As the Bocco fire waned, they were launched from Wolcott to Silverthorne for the Buffalo Mountain fire.”
This scope is rare — once or twice a year — but it’s important.
“We watch out for each other. They were there for us, and we want to be there for them,” Cupp said.
What’s mutual aid?
Fire districts have been doing mutual aid for decades, Novak said.
In the not-so-good old days, insurance companies often paid fire crews. If they didn’t fight the fire, then they didn’t get paid, which led to some fairly unhealthy competition.
Mutual aid is either direct assistance on a fire or other incident, or crews move up and cover each other’s stations, so communities are protected.
In the early 1970s, after significant wildland fires in Southern California, crews began working together instead of competing, and the mutual aid system was born.
Local fire districts go long periods when they don’t need the aid. Then accidents happen with firearms, campfires or a semi-truck catches fire, and they do need the help.
Generally, mutual aid runs 24 hours, and typically, it’s not that long, Novak said.
In this region, Eagle County is one of 10 counties in the Northwest Mutual Aid Group. Local mutual aid is vital, Novak said, mostly because of geography. For example, it’s a two-hour drive to Grand County.
“The counties around us are a long way away,” Novak said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.