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Fire district's newest member voices support for training facility, volunteers

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By Sandy Barnes

Evergreen physician Valeri Leswing, the newest member of the Evergreen Fire Protection District board, says she supports the controversial fire training facility in progress at Fire Station 2.

“I feel like this training facility makes our community safer,” Leswing said. 

The board members unanimously selected Leswing at their March 12 meeting to replace former member Charles Dykeman, who recently moved from the area.

“Valeri brings some unique qualifications to the board," said board member Charles Simons.
Leswing is a pediatric emergency medicine physician who is certified in advanced life trauma and pediatric support. She owns Mountain Pediatrics in Evergreen and previously served as an attending physician in emergency services.
During an interview with other candidates on March 5, Leswing said she could bring her experience in emergency room management to the position, and that she would also be willing to assist EMTs and first responders in the Evergreen fire department with training.
“I have the EMS piece,” she said of her role on the fire board.

Leswing said she has experience training paramedics, in addition to her medical training and professional work at children’s hospitals in Texas.

“I’ve worked in a number of pediatric ERs and have been fortunate to learn from outstanding people,” she said.

Board member David Christensen commended Leswing for her medical expertise, and for publicly reversing herself regarding the training facility.

“I appreciate that kind of open honesty,” Christensen said. “The decider was your public reversal.”

Leswing later said that a statement on an anonymous flier indicating her opposition to the training facility was incorrectly attributed to her a few months ago.

“I was very concerned about the facility,” she said.

However, after discussing the project with Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege, Leswing said she was reassured about its safety. The new facility is being placed on property next to Bergen Meadow Elementary School, where Leswing’s two 5-year-old twins attend kindergarten.

“None of the training will be done while kids are in school,” she said. “I think this facility will keep my kids safe.”

“Fire in our community is a reality,” Leswing said. “Our firefighters will be better if they can train here with this staff and equipment. … Going down to Denver is not a good solution.”

Most of the training at the new facility will not be with smoke, Leswing said. The smoke generated during trainings would be easy to mitigate through cooperation from homeowners, she said. If homeowners were willing to not burn fires in their fireplaces during training sessions, the overall level of smoke would be reduced, she explained.

Leswing's appointment comes amid a campaign to recall the other four members of the board over their decision to build the training facility in Bergen Park. The recall election is scheduled for April 23.

“No matter what happens, my job is still the same,” Leswing said of the recall election. 

“The fire board does not dictate what the volunteer organization and firefighters do,” she said. “They support them and make sure the district is financially sound.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that people see this board in terms of the fire facility,” said Leswing. “There have been so many areas of misinformation.”

Opponents of the facility have criticized the fire board’s management practices and lack of oversight regarding response times to emergency calls.

“Our fire district sets the example for most mountain communities,” Leswing said. “Most of the mountain fire departments are struggling financially.”

Leswing also said she supports the volunteer firefighters.

“You have people so dedicated they’re willing to do this for free. I don’t think you get that level of dedication with a paid staff.”

 

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