Vail Daily column: Fire district looks to future with Avon plan
We would like to take this opportunity to respond and to clarify several points that were made in the March 10 Vail Daily editorial. We are retired firefighters with 55-plus combined years of experience and are either serving or have served on the board of directors of the Eagle River Fire Protection District. The former board member was involved throughout the land acquisition process.
In 2008, Eagle River Fire Protection District began to examine the service levels it was providing to the citizens it protects. Almont & Associates was hired to evaluate the eight stations currently in the district, including the Beaver Creek station, which is staffed by a contract with Vail Resorts. The study included response times from each station to all the areas within the district. It included the possibility of relocating some of the current stations in order to optimize emergency response times. The study analyzed many of the vacant lots in different areas within the district. These included one lot in Traer Creek that was set aside by the developer, the area behind City Market, available lots at the bottom of Beaver Creek by U.S. Highway 6, the corner of Avon and Swift Gulch roads, and even the Skier Building. The study indicated the optimal location should be in close proximity to the Avon exit of Interstate 70.
The Eagle River Fire Protection District board of directors took the results of the evaluation and followed its recommendations. Unfortunately, none of the parcels close to the Avon exit were available at that time.
The board attempted to purchase the land located between the Shell station and the automotive shop, but no agreement could be reached. After lengthy, careful consideration of the situation, the board was left with the unsavory task of an eminent domain process on that property. This lot was owned by Jim Pavelich and currently serves as an overflow parking lot for the Northside Cafe.
When Lot 1A became available from the Tanavon Corporation in 2010, these proceedings were terminated. Soon after the purchase of Lot 1A, all plans for development were put on hold due to the rapid deterioration of the economic climate. At that time, the Walking Mountains Science Center began its PUD process, which included a rezoning of Lot 1A for public safety and dwelling units on 1B (located directly behind Lot 1A).
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Recently, Nexcore approached the district with an offer to purchase Lot 1A for a medical complex. Concurrently, Lot 1B became available. It was decided to sell Lot 1A and purchase Lot 1B provided the zoning could be changed to accommodate everyone’s needs. This agreement will eliminate almost $2 million in debt from the district’s balance sheet and reduce its interest expense. The opportunity to partner with the Avon Police Department will accelerate the construction of the station and once completed, response time for most of Avon will improve. The district has done extensive GPS analysis comparing response times from the current station on congested Benchmark Road and response time from Lot 1B. A successful outcome in emergency response depends on the time it takes to get to the scene of the emergency; the GPS analysis affirms the results of the 2008 Almont study.
Why are we looking to move the Avon station? What’s wrong with the way it is?
Eagle River Fire Protection District does not own the current building that houses the Avon fire station. It is owned by the town of Avon and has been leased to the district for a nominal fee since the early ’80s. The town of Avon has made statements to Eagle River Fire Protection District that they have alternative plans for that location. Additionally, the town has grown considerably since the early ’80s; the streets are much more congested and the town is positioning itself to become more pedestrian friendly.
This jeopardizes the safety of our residents and guests when Eagle River Fire Protection District responds to emergencies. The fire trucks of today are larger and more complicated than they were in the early ’80s and the department has outgrown the station. The command staff has also outgrown the space it needs to operate efficiently and has been relocated into the White River building down the street.
Those two issues, along with the better response times overall from a station closer to I-70, are the reasons for Eagle River Fire Protection District purchasing the land.
But the biggest piece of this puzzle concerns the ladder truck. This integral piece of equipment provides critical life safety in the event of a high-rise fire — and it is currently housed at the far end of the district, in Cordillera, due to its size. It simply doesn’t fit in the current Avon station and, optimally, it needs to be more centrally located.
Several years ago, the Eagle River Fire Protection District board was faced with the difficult decision of closing some of the district fire stations on a rotating basis due to the downturn of the economy and the resulting declining tax revenue. The voters in the valley recognized the need for fire protection and agreed to adjust the Eagle River Fire Protection District mill levy until the economy improves. This acquisition of 1B and future plans to build a new regional fire station is designed to keep pace with the growth of the district and to ensure that the district continues to provide the level of service our residents and guests need and rightfully deserve.
The Eagle River Fire Protection District board of directors is tasked with providing direction for the emergency response of the district. We give this responsibility and this entire process our utmost attention and truly feel this direction is what is right for the district, our firefighters and best for the constituents we protect. The Avon station has served as the main fire house in the district for over 35 years. The board’s goal is to design and build a regional station that will anticipate and accommodate the needs of the district for the next 50 years.
The board understands the business owners in that area want to build more tax generating businesses in that part of the town of Avon and as an entity that is dependent on tax revenues to sustain operations; we are completely supportive of that desire. However, safety considerations have to come into play and Lot 1B represents for both the Eagle River Fire Protection District and Avon Police Department an opportunity to improve operations and efficiency as well benefit from cost sharing for joint space.
If you have any questions or would like to discuss any of the above actions, the board meets on the third Thursday of every month. We would love to see you there and hear your opinions. You can check our website at http://www.erfpd.org for the times and location of the meetings. On behalf of the board and firefighters, we would like to thank you for the support for a new regional station we have received from both our community and visitors.
Al Bosworth is a retired firefighter and Eagle River Fire Protection District board member. John McCaulley is a retired deputy chief and former Eagle River Fire Protection District board member.