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Challenge candidates in recall election field questions

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Training building, response times are prevalent issues

By Sandy Barnes

Facing Evergreen Fire/Rescue staff and firefighters, the four challengers in the fire board recall election fielded questions about their intentions and qualifications at their April 3 forum.

 

Candidates Dan Koller, Paul Peil, Jodi Kesten and Barry Pier held the event at Evergreen High School to present their views on issues related to the recall campaign of four Evergreen Fire Protection District board members. The school auditorium was filled with residents who challenged the candidates with questions written on index cards, which moderator Jim Sherwood read to them.

“How would you realistically improve fire call response times?” was the first question.

“First, you need to get down to the root causes,” replied Koller. “Response times is just a symptom.”

In his presentation at the beginning of the forum, Koller showed graphs with data he had compiled on the fire department’s response times, which he claims are below National Fire Protection Association standards.  He also noted that the fire department does not have a current figure on response times available to the public.

Responding to another question, Koller said he was not aware of any complaints from district residents about response times.

“What will you do with the new training building?” another audience member queried.

“There are a tremendous number of evolutions that can be done that don’t require smoke,” answered Peil, who opposes live burn training at the facility at Station 2 in Bergen Park, along with the other candidates.

“The only thing we object to is the fire and smoke capability,” said Pier.

“The fact that this building is going up as we speak is not a situation that we wanted,” said Koller.  

However, Koller said he would not consider tearing the building down.  

“I would look at other options,” he said. “That structure is supposed to be movable.”

Responding to a related question about live burn training taking place 12 times a year, Koller said even that is unacceptable.

“We spend our time outside, and this restriction is an impact on our quality of life,” he said. “It’s an impact on air quality. To say it’s not an impact is wrong.”

Koller also responded to inquiries about implementing the challengers' plan to use the West Metro training center in Lakewood for firefighter training. 

“It’s logistical questions to be answered,” said Koller. “There’s nothing that can’t be solved.”

Peil commented on the perception that he and other recall candidates want to replace volunteer firefighters with paid staff. 

“That is so far from the truth,” he said.

“Volunteers are here because they want to save lives,” said Koller. “I appreciate so much that these people are willing to do this.”

“Why recall the whole board, rather than (just) the board president?” was another question.

“I don’t think that replacing one board member would solve anything,” replied Koller. “They all agree; they’re all on the same page … The balance is missing.”

Fire board members George Kling, Charles Simons, Jeff deDisse and David Christensen, whom the candidates are challenging, all voted last year to build the training facility.

When asked about replacing Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege, Koller and Peil expressed support for him.

“I think we have a very good fire chief, and there is no need to replace him,” said Koller. 

Peil said Weege has taken a professional approach to his position and has remained available to the community.

Answering a question about how four new board members would be better for Evergreen residents, Koller said that although the fire department has done a “tremendous job,” there is room for improvement.

“There is a danger in being successful for a long time,” he remarked.

“Why would I replace this board with (inexperienced) members?” asked an audience member.

“The board provides direction and strategy. They’re not out there to fight fires themselves,” answered Pier. 

While discussing his qualifications, Pier said he has started and managed companies, including Wispertel, which had 35 employees. Other candidates also noted their experience with corporations.

“I’ve gone through what you’ve gone through,” said Kesten, who has served as a volunteer with a New York fire department. “I know the brotherhood … I’m doing this for you.”

“How do you justify the recall when the May election is one year away?” was another query.

“Waiting 1 1/2 years wasn’t viable,” said Pier. 

“I wanted to help make the fire district better,” said Kesten.

When asked how they would react to losing the April 23 election, the candidates said they would take it in stride.

“I would definitely be OK with whatever happens,” said Kesten. 

“If we lose, the public has spoken,” said Pier.

More questions

At the beginning of the forum, moderator Jim Sherwood explained that not all questions would be read to the recall candidates. Some that were redundant and others that were considered inappropriate were omitted, he said. The recall committee would answer unread questions in e-mails, Sherwood added.

Some attendees also asked why only the recall candidates were at the forum. Koller said that the forum was intended to give people information about the candidates. He also said that he and the other candidates had agreed to participate in another forum that would have included the incumbent fire board members, but that a scheduling conflict prevented the event from taking place.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.