Eagle County Sheriff: We’re not alone when disaster strikes our communities (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: We’re not alone when disaster strikes our communities (column)

James van Beek

James van Beek

In times of crisis, we never want to be alone. First responders are the first to admit it. The expression, "It takes a village" was never truer than when handling a community emergency.

During the Lake Christine fire, we teamed up with the best of the best. It began with local law enforcement and fire departments. Everyone on these teams trains for not only local emergencies, but also continues elevating their skills to national credential level.

Each certification has specified requirements but the most important one is that of bravery. It's not just knowing what to do, but having the guts to get it done, even in the face of potential mortal peril.

They say that law enforcement and firefighters spend 90 percent of their time in boredom and 10 percent in absolute terror. The word boredom is not precise because it includes many wonderful moments of community service, preparation and essential duties. But that 10 percent must be unwavering commitment. Bravery is not the absence of fear, but the ability to move past it because you value something greater than fear itself.

Many have commented on how smoothly and well-defined the execution of services was during the fire in Basalt. In some ways, it was remarkable, in that many other communities don't operate in similar fashion. There are procedures in place, of course, but not every detail can be foreseen. During those times, common sense along with mutual respect and consideration become essential, as we all focus on our most important job: saving lives and protecting all aspects of our community.

We are all part of the Incident Management Team. How we respond is divided into levels. Each level is progressively more specialized and tactical in approach. Equipment is increasingly more complex and targeted for the mission. Since availability is limited and range expanded, it is quite serious to move from one level to another, oftentimes, requiring manpower from other states and the federal government.

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The IMT incident levels run from 5 to 1, with 1 being the most serious, with national implications.

• Type 5: Run by local authorities, usually spanning the first 12 hours.

• Type 4: Expands to county and neighboring communities (Teams of seven to 10).

• Type 3: Jumps to the state level, with statewide resources — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security may become involved. (Teams of 10-35). In Colorado we also have a special Type 3 "All-Hazards Incident Management Team."

• Type 2: Tend to be federally funded regional teams (32 teams may reach 200-500).

• Type 1: Is considered a national threat and is an interagency emergency, with the federal government in control, in cooperation with state and local agencies. (18 teams that can exceed 1,000).

Aside from fires, IMTs respond to a wide variety of emergencies. You will see IMTs at natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunami or hazmat incidents. They will also be on call during riots, which can escalate to lift-threatening events. The Federal Emergency Management Agency gets involved at Levels 1 and 2.

Many will personally know those on Type 4 and 5 teams because they are manned by your neighbors. You will see them at community and sporting events, maintaining security and in preparation for unexpected incidents.

Those law enforcement, fire and ambulances that you see, are all coordinated and ready for any unanticipated threat or medical emergency. All have received training, with many already nationally certified. We are there to assure events remain fun and safe for the entire community, securing happy memories.

Threatening events can be nature-caused or man made, but you are not alone. The minute we discover a threat, there will be up to hundreds of people who will have your back. This is our professional team, but there are many more local citizens who, in every emergency, have stepped up and even placed themselves in danger to save a neighbor. There is no number for this team, they are commonly known as friends. In the military, we refer to these teams as those who have your six (originating from the old pilot's clock directions, with 12 as forward and six behind you). We are thankful to have them all, which continues to make Eagle County the best place in the world to live.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.