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Planning Commission approves site plan for fire training facility

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By Sandy Barnes

The Jefferson County Planning Commission has approved a site plan for a fire training facility at Evergreen Fire Station 2 in Bergen Park, allowing the project to move forward.

Jeffco planner Aaron McLean, who managed the case, recommended that the commission approve the plan, which he said is compatible with community uses.

During his testimony at the Nov. 8 hearing, Evergreen Fire Chief Mike Weege said that building the facility is necessary to improve firefighter training. The new building will replace an existing smaller one with limited capacity.

“Enhancing training is paramount,” said Weege. “This building will be used as a training facility with live burn capabilities.”

Weege said that live burning would take place approximately 12 times a year and that the facility would not be leased out to other fire departments.

Before voting 6-1 to approve the plan, board members listened to more than two hours of testimony from residents, most of whom voiced strong opposition to the burn building — as they have at previous public meetings on the issue.

“There is impact, risk to the community,” said Evergreen resident Greg Dobbs. “I don’t think it’s fair to build so close to homes, and it is not within county and community use.”

Dobbs and other residents opposed to the facility have urged that the fire district find another site. Other burn buildings in Colorado are not near homes, Dobbs said.

Weege said that purchasing property would be very expensive, and that other fire district property is closer to homes than the Bergen Park site.

“Station 2 was still the optimum site,” he said.

The offsets from homes at Station 2 are 600 feet, and the school close to the site is not occupied when training takes place, Weege said. 

In deference to the wishes of nearby residents, the building plan was lowered from four to three stories with a maximum height of 35 feet, the fire chief noted. Large trees will be placed around the training area for screening, and the surrounding wall can be raised from 8 to 14 feet.

Weege also pointed out that firefighter training had been going on at the fire station for 26 years, and that the facility would be located next to the administration building, where classes are held. Because all 90 Evergreen firefighters are volunteers, convenience of training is an important consideration, he said.

Some Evergreen residents spoke in support of the project during the hearing. Bergen Meadow Elementary School principal Peggy Miller  told the board that the school district did not see the facility as an issue of concern.

“I am really saddened that this is so divisive in this community,” said Miller. “The school district is staying out of it because I have only heard from two parents.”

Concerns about smoke product

During his testimony, Evergreen resident Paul Peil questioned the use of a mineral oil product the fire district plans to utilize to produce smoke during training sessions.

“We’re stuck with a situation where what they’re going to be doing is dangerous,” Peil said. 

Peil has found data from OSHA and other sources that indicate potential health hazards associated with mineral oil use, which he has given to the fire district staff.

However, a report that Weege received from Denver environmental consultant A.G. Wassenaar stated that highly refined mineral oil products are safe for fire training exercises.

In response to concerns from residents, the fire district hired the firm to analyze Froggy Juice Pro Fog Fluid, a water-based product the fire district was initially planning to use to simulate smoke in live burn exercises. 

The report stated that the Froggy product would dissipate when heated, and advised using a highly refined mineral oil product instead, which it characterized as “non-toxic and non-flammable.”

“Formula O Fluid and MDG Neutral Fluid are oil-based solutions … Their products are commonly used in fire training exercises. … The use of Neutral Fluid is safe,” the report stated.

During their review of the site plan, Planning Commission members also asked questions about the site choice and potential safety issues. 

While expressing some hesitancy about the project, members eventually concluded that the use of the fire district property is appropriate. Commission member James Price, an Evergreen resident, said that seemed consistent to build the facility at the fire station property where training has been taking place.

“I would hope that you would monitor constantly that there is no danger,” said commission member Shirley Johnson. 

Johnson also suggested that a sensor be used to monitor emissions during training sessions.

Member Tim Rogers cast the one dissenting vote, saying the facility would lack compatibility with the surrounding area.

“I don’t see that a burn center is a typical location at a fire station,” Rogers said.

The fire training facility site plan does not require approval by the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners.

Residents opposed to the facility have initiated a recall of Evergreen Fire Protection District board members, who recently voted to move forward with the project. However, the petition is not being actively circulated, Peil said last week.