Western Eagle quick to help Glenwood | VailDaily.com

Western Eagle quick to help Glenwood

Special to the Daily

Here are a few of their stories:

Gypsum firefighters spring to action

When crews from the Gypsum Fire Department reached Mitchell Creek on the Coal Seam Fire in Glenwood Springs at about 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 8, they found flames already licking around houses in the neighborhood. The Gypsum firefighters spent that first night working in a residential area, and around the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s fish hatchery, the Glenwood Springs sewer plant, and the golf course.

Firefighting managers assigned the local group to work as a strike team, with emphasis on protecting structures.

Fire Chief Dave Vroman says that’s a typical sort of responsibility for a neighboring fire department that’s lending a hand.

“Our guys aren’t really “ground pounders’ like the firefighters in the federal system … in an initial attack in a wildland-urban interface situation, structure protection is what we’re going to do,” said Vroman. Gypsum maintained nine firefighters and three trucks at the fire throughout the weekend.

“We didn’t lose any structure that was not (already) on fire – we also stopped some fires,” said the chief. Meanwhile, the department was also responding as usual to local calls.

Vroman took the opportunity to voice support for Eagle County’s proposed wildland fire regulations aimed at requiring property owners to create defensible space around their homes in rural areas where wildfire is a hazard. The regulations, now in the county’s review process, would require the use of fire-resistant materials in building homes; and also spells out how property owners should clear shrubbery and trees from next to their house. Vroman noted the Glenwood fire was burning in what firefighters call an “urban interface” area – any area where man-made buildings are built close to or within natural terrain and flammable vegetation, where potential for wildland fires exist. He said the county’s proposed code would be a help in such situations.

“It doesn’t mean we won’t get a wildland fire, or that houses won’t be lost — but it will give us tome tools for mitigation, and will start to fix the problem,” he said.

The fire chief was quick to credit the work of his volunteer firemen.

“This is a perfect example of why it is still imperative to have volunteers,” Vroman noted. He said his department of 48 firefighters is 90 percent volunteer. He maintains crews on a 12-hour rotation.

In part, the use of volunteers is an economic decision.

“I can spend $100,000 and get two (full-time) paid guys; or I can spend $100,000 and get 30 volunteers,” he said. Full-time firemen and the volunteers get an equal amount and quality of training — it just takes the volunteers longer, the chief noted.

Vroman said he likes working with volunteers, because they bring some life experience with them.

“Volunteer departments tend to think a little bit outside of the box. We do tend to adapt, and do more with less than some paid departments,” he said.

– Kathy Heicher

“This is what we do’

The Greater Eagle Fire Protection District sent a truck and a “split crew” to Glenwood Springs. The two, four-person crews were working 12-hour shifts, and served mostly to defend structures in West Glenwood and to support the wildland crews.

John Benson was working the night shift Monday. Since Saturday, he had been working long hours with little sleep, as had most of the department’s paid staff.

“You kind of get used to it,” said Benson between bites of a long-cold meal from Wendy’s. “This is what we do, and I wouldn’t do anything else.”

– Scott N. Miller

Quick pit stop

Winston Cup racing fans should have come to the Eagle fire station last Saturday and Sunday to see pit stops done large. The department filled pumper trucks from several Front Range fire departments as they passed through Eagle. The trucks had come over empty, the better to pull the steep grades of the Eisenhower Tunnel and Vail Pass.

The first was from Aurora. The tanker truck had stopped at the Eagle Amoco station for fuel, and crew members asked there where they could get a load of water.

The Eagle fire station got the call that a truck needed filling, and firefighters there were ready when the truck rolled in.

“We filled “em up in about four and a half minutes,” said Eagle Fire Chief Jon Asper. “We gave “em T-shirts, too.”

– Scott N. Miller

Firefighting, babies all in a day’s work

for Gypsum volunteer firefighter

To say that Gypsum volunteer firefighter Eric Hill had a busy day last Saturday would be an understatement. Hill was standing by at the Gypsum Fire House after many of his fellow firefighters were dispatched to Glenwood, his wife, Cissy Dohman reports. Earlier in the day, Hill was among the firemen who responded to a fire north of Wolcott on Gypsum Creek.

Then a call came in that a motorist was stranded at Dotsero with a flat tire. Interstate 70 had been closed to traffic, and the motorist’s pregnant wife was in early labor. The couple was desperately trying to get from Denver to their doctor in Grand Junction.

Ultimately, HIll responded to the call and helped to transport the woman to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. Hill’s wife, Cissy, ended up caring for the couple’s six-year-old daughter for the remainder of the day while they dealt with their medical emergency.

– Kathy Heicher

Shelter from the storm

Eagle Valley High School was pressed into service as a Red Cross shelter last Saturday through early Tuesday morning.

After setting up the site in about two hours, Red Cross branch manager Nettie Reynolds said, a total of 87 people used the shelter Saturday night. About 20 stayed Sunday night and 30 Monday evening.

Tuesday morning, people were up at 4:30 a.m., ate breakfast and cleared out by 6:30. Most were headed home, said Reynolds.

Among the shelter’s guests was the crew and equipment from Rock Garden Rafting of No Name. Most members of the crew camped outside the school.

Many had never spent any time in Gypsum, either.

“You’ve got a nice little town here,” said Gregory Cowan. There’s good people here.”

That sentiment was echoed by Jorge Sanchez of Indianapolis. Sanchez was en route to Glenwood Springs just to swim at the Hot Springs Lodge and Pool. He was detoured to the shelter Saturday night.

Making the best of a fouled-up trip, Sanchez said, “There are nice people in this town.”

Those nice people flooded the shelter with food and other items. Reynolds said local Burger King general manager Joan Bonsal brought over enough food for one meal. The local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints also offered to bring food, as did other local congregations.

Evacuees also had access to several large bags of clothing contributed by residents.

Tuesday morning, shelter operations were consolidated at the Spring Valley campus of Colorado Mountain College near Glenwood Springs. But, said Reynolds, the Gypsum site could be re-opened “whenever they need us.”

– Scott N. Miller

Stranded by fire

Eagle resident Sara Keegan and her family drove to Rifle Gap Reservoir last Saturday for a day of playing in the water. They had no reason to believe the trip would be anything out of the ordinary.

After a day of fun, they decided to head home, figuring they would be back on their home turf by dark. They reached New Castle at about 7:15 pm., and there learned that I-70 was closed, and a fire was raging. Ultimately, along with other eastbound travelers, they had to join a caravan of cars that drove to Rifle, up to Craig, then over through Hayden, Oak Creek and McCoy in order to reach Eagle.

The Keegan family reached home at about 1:30 a.m.

– Kathy Heicher

Firefighter’s vacation cut short

Eagle firefighter Chris Blankenship was supposed to be on vacation last week, and was at his parents’ home in Virginia when news of the Coal Seam Fire hit the national news. He called the fire station Sunday and asked if he should come back. He caught the first available flight to Denver Monday and was back at the station before 7:30 p.m., too late to head to the fire, but just in time to bolster the skeleton crew left to answer calls in Eagle.

– Scott N. Miller

This is a vacation?

Bill Kennedy has been a volunteer with the Eagle Fire Department for nearly six years. He doesn’t go on a lot of calls, but enjoys the challenges of wildland firefighting. Kennedy took vacation time from his job at Vail Resorts to lend a hand on the Coal Seam Fire.

– Scott N. Miller

Firefighter wishes he could be two places at once

Todd Hennessey had mixed feelings about coming back. On one hand, Hennessey, a longtime area resident, is still a member in good standing of the Eagle Fire Department, despite the fact he now lives near Castle Rock, where he is a middle school social studies teacher in the Douglas County School District.

On the other, many of his students may be affected by the massive Hayman fire rampaging across the Pike National Forest.

“I have students who live in Perry Park and Sedalia,” he said. “I’d like to help them.”

– Scott N. Miller

Protecting the fish

Eagle’s crew was stationed near the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s Glenwood Fish Hatchery Monday. “I like to see the engines parked here,” said hatchery manager Rich Kolecki. “I can’t tell you how pretty they are.”

Kolecki noted that the Glenwood hatchery has numerous threatened and endangered species, including Colorado River cutthroat and greenback cutthroat trout. The hatchery is also free of whirling disease, so is a critical component of re-building the state’s supply of stockable trout.

“To all the fire departments that have protected this unit, the Division (of Wildlife) is grateful,” said Kolecki.

– Scott N. Miller

Backing up the back-ups

Local fire departments all sent crews to Glenwood, and all looked to each other for backup. “Avon and Vail and Gypsum and Eagle are all covering each other,” said Asper. “The camaraderie among these departments is just incredible.”

– Scott N. Miller

Support Local Journalism