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West Vail firehouse OK’d

Matt Zalaznick

The firehouse promised to West Vail residents 22 years ago may finally have won the vote that will result in construction of the station that some say is desperately needed.

A consultant’s study –the latest of several reports that have found the town needs to bolster its firefighting force – has convinced Vail Town Council members to house a fire crew on an empty patch of land behind the Wendy’s and Texaco gas station in West Vail.

“This helps the overall community,” Vail Fire Chief John Gulick, long a proponent of the West Vail firehouse, said Tuesday night after the Town Council, in a 6-0 vote, gave him the go ahead to design the station.

The $2 million to $4 million needed to build the station and buy at least one new fire engine would be provided by Vail taxpayers. The Town Council is considering asking voters in November to approve a property tax increase, likely less than 1 percent, to raise the money.

The town’s two fire stations are on the outskirts of Vail Village and in East Vail. But Vail’s long, narrow layout puts an unusual strain on firefighters responding to fires or other emergencies and some say the town is living on borrowed time until a disaster in West Vail is made more tragic because of delayed or over-extended fire crews.

“We should’ve done this years ago,” longtime Vail resident Dr. Tom Steinberg told the council. “The sooner you do it, the better.”

The West Vail station was first promised to residents in 1981, when the town took over the now defunct Vail fire district. Vail’s inability to build the station forced the involvement of a county judge, who ordered the town to open the station by 1985.

The station has been studied and stumbled over by subsequent town councils. Earlier this year, however, the town brought immediacy back to the controversy when it bought the sweep of land behind Wendy’s and the Texaco for $2.3 million.

“It seems to me to be the appropriate site for the station,” Town Councilman Dick Cleveland said.

The consultant who did the latest study, Jim Sparr, said the third station, and the fire crew housed there, will make the entire town safer. The West Vail crew would provide backup response as well as standing in for other crews that are dealing with emergencies.

“The entire community benefits from the third facility,” Sparr said. “The optimal level of response would be from three stations.”

More than 40 percent of the town’s homes and buildings are in West Vail, but it takes firefighters at the main Vail station between seven and 12 minutes to respond to calls in the area, which stretches from the Intermountain neighborhood to Timber Ridge apartment complex.

“That’s unacceptable and we’ve noticed that for a long time,” Gulick said.

To prove the point at Tuesday night’s meeting, Sparr showed the Town Council a video in which a furnished room of an average home is consumed in less than two minutes by fire ignited by a tiny spark.

In a wider evaluation of Vail’s fire department, Sparr said the town’s main station is in desperate need of a complete renovation and redesign. He also encouraged the town to purchase at least one “quick response vehicle” – a specially designed pickup truck –that could deal more nimbly with medical emergencies in town and car wrecks on Vail Pass.

That truck, which costs about $50,000, would reduce wear and tear on the town’s fire engines, which cost a few hundred thousand dollars each, Sparr said.

The town’s fire crews also are forced to respond to an excessive number of false alarms, Sparr said. He therefore encourage the town to enforce more aggressively its false alarm ordinance and fine business and buildings that repeatedly bring fire crews out on false emergencies, he said.

Vail would benefit immensely if its fire department merged with the larger Eagle River Fire Protection District and the Eagle County Ambulance District. Those two agencies deal with emergencies in eastern Eagle County.

Both mergers are being discussed by the three agencies, though there appears to be far less enthusiasm over combining paramedics and firefighters under one department.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to drive down to Edwards and look at the fire station and the (ambulance station) where they’re waving to each other out the doors,” Sparr said.

The Town Council agreed with most of Sparr’s assessment. Council members asked staffers to look into purchasing quick response vehicles, revive the false alarm ordinance and talk to the fire and ambulance districts about forming one agency.

As for West Vail, the town has already received proposals from several architectural firms in interested in building the new firehouse, Gulick said.

“It will be the the way it should’ve been, fire service will be enhanced to West Vail,” Gulick said. “We’ve taken another step in the direction I’ve been hoping to see it go.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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