Evergreen fire department seeking volunteers

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Drop in numbers prompts call

By Sandy Barnes

“We’re ramping up for recruiting,” said Chris Johnson, fire operations chief for the Evergreen Volunteer Fire Department.

“We’re low, but not critical,” Johnson told the Evergreen Fire Protection District board at the June 18 meeting.

In recent months, the number of firefighters in the all-volunteer organization has decreased from more than 90 to 78, Johnson said.

“It’s deeper than we thought,” he remarked. “We might have to change the way we fight fires … I would like to set a goal of retaining 90 members.”

Board member Valeri Leswing said she was curious as to why volunteers are leaving the department.

“It’s mostly work- and lifestyle-related issues,” replied Johnson. “Recruiting and retention are always the biggest problems of volunteer fire departments.”

Many of the firefighters who have left are young, he added. While screening applicants, Johnson said many promising young men have been turned down.

He said that training recruits costs the fire district between $8,000 and $10,000.

Johnson also said that he and other firefighters are looking forward to getting back to training at Evergreen Fire Station 2.

During his report, Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege said the fire training facility at the Bergen Park station is nearly complete.

However, the final work on the facility cannot be finished until a building inspection is done, Weege said.

In addition to placing a large pine tree behind the facility for screening, aspen have been planted, he said.

“The aspens have helped a lot,” said Weege, while referring to nearby residents’ complaints about the view of the facility.

Weege also said he is getting quotes on painting the roof of the three-story building into order to provide traction for firefighters during training. The paint will also reduce glare from the roof, which has concerned some residents, he said.

The fire training facility was the primary cause for a recent recall initiative of four fire board members, who won by a large margin in the April recall election.

Weege said the election cost the district nearly $133,000, not including staff time. The cost was somewhat lower than anticipated because a total of 17,445 ballots were mailed out, instead of the projected 20,000, Weege said.

“We’d be closer to $150,000 if we added staff time,” Weege added.

Board President George Kling remarked that staff-time costs included calls from a newspaper reporter asking for information about the recall. However, the Canyon Courier reporter submitted e-mailed questions to Micki Wadhams, designated election official for the recall election, as directed by Kling.

Included in the cost of the recall election is reimbursement of campaign expenses for the board members who were successful in retaining their positions.

The board authorized an initial reimbursement of $2,500 to Kling during the meeting. Leswing abstained from voting for the reimbursement after voicing hesitation about compensating board members for campaign expenses.

“You’re getting paid back for defending your position,” said board member Charlie Simons.

“For protecting the district,” added board member David Christensen. “The statues allow for reimbursement if a recall failed,” he said.

Carol Hucker, administrative assistant for Evergreen Fire/Rescue, said that there would be a total of three resolutions for reimbursements, but only one was presented at the June 18 meeting.


Reviewing the Bluebell Fire effort

During a presentation by Weege, board members saw dramatic photos of the recent Bluebell Fire that consumed approximately 10 acres before it was contained by Evergreen crews and other departments providing mutual aid.

Evergreen Capt. Scott Martin promptly calling for air support and mutual aid helped control the wildland fire near Broce Ranch on June 2, Weege said.

The CodeRED notification to residents also worked well, with an 85 percent success rate, he remarked.

Weege later provided Evergreen response times for the Bluebell Fire. After receiving the call at 1:58 p.m., the first Evergreen firefighters began arriving on the scene at 2:07 p.m., said Weege.

By 2:30, there were three Evergreen trucks at the wildland fire, Weege said. Helicopters arrived at 3: 56 p.m. and began dumping water on the blaze. A plane with fire retardant flew over the area at 2:13 p.m., and again at 4:41 p.m., according to records.

“We had 30 guys out there within an hour. You could not ask for anything better,” said Christensen.


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