Fire chief: Time to consolidate
Inter-Canyon Fire Chief Skip Shirlaw made a plea to the fire board to seriously consider and move forward with talks on consolidating with three other fire departments on the U.S. 285 Corridor.
“I have made it no secret that I believe we should be moving toward consolidation,” he told the fire board on June 8. “We are reaching a point where we are getting to critical mass because we are lacking volunteers.”
He pointed to the last few weekends where sometimes first responders to emergency calls numbered two while other times response is 10.
“People are on vacation, going to baseball games and doing things with their families,” he said. “We can’t expect volunteers to answer all the time. We are really there (in needing to consolidate). It’s our next step forward.”
Inter-Canyon is working with the fire departments in Indian Hills, Elk Creek and North Fork to determine whether consolidation is a possibility.
Consultant AP Triton, which was hired by the four districts to look at the feasibility of consolidation, said it made sense. Its 250-page report released in late December said a consolidated fire district would create a regional approach to responding to emergency incidents within the new fire district boundaries, balance resources and produce shorter response times.
Consolidation would take a vote of residents in all four districts, and fire chiefs have suggested that would appear on the ballot in November 2023. They need that time to figure out how consolidation would work, align the cultures and communicate to staffs and residents the logistics of a new department. In the meantime, the chiefs and members of each fire board meet regularly to discuss consolidation issues.
Shirlaw’s plea came after the fire board unanimously voted to approve a resolution saying the department would continue to participate in an evaluation of cooperative services among the districts. The Elk Creek and North Fork fire boards already approved the resolution, and Shirlaw said he expected the Indian Hills fire board to look at the resolution at its board meeting this month.
“We don’t have capacity of volunteers (to go on calls),” Shirlaw said. “Being a volunteer firefighter is a massive time commitment, and we are asking a lot of these people.”
Nationally the number of volunteer firefighters is dwindling while calls are increasing, and Inter-Canyon fits with that scenario.
Shirlaw said he tries not to have plans on weekends to ensure he can cover calls, and if he does have plans, he makes sure someone else is available. When Inter-Canyon has a small number of first responders, it can ask for mutual aid from another fire department to help respond to calls.
Battalion Chief Dan Hatlestad echoed Shirlaw’s sentiments, saying that fire departments nationwide have tried recruitment and retention techniques to no avail.
Board members said they wanted to dive deeper into recruitment issues and ideas, and they plan to discuss the subject at their 6 p.m. Aug. 10 meeting at Fire Station 3, 8445 U.S. 285.
Inter-Canyon to begin deploying to other wildfires
The Inter-Canyon Fire Department will begin making some of its trucks and firefighters available to be deployed to wildfires in other states to allow personnel to get vital wildfire training.
Fire Chief Skip Shirlaw told the Inter-Canyon fire board on June 8 that the knowledge and experience is invaluable. Plus the fire district makes money by sending trucks to other wildfires.
Fire departments are paid for the use of their vehicles and firefighters are paid for working at the fires. Usually, trucks and personnel are deployed for two weeks, and board members estimated the fire district could see as much as $20,000 for a two-week deployment.
Evergreen and Elk Creek fire departments have been making trucks and firefighters available for deployment for years.
Shirlaw said the department would make a brush truck available, and he was available for deployment. He said Inter-Canyon would only consider deploying during times when fire danger was not as high here.
Board members were concerned about the department’s operation if Shirlaw was gone, but Shirlaw countered that the department’s leadership is a team effort.
“The leadership is not just me,” he explained. “It’s us. We have qualified, capable people who can step in. If our department has issues if I’m gone for a day or a week, I have failed in my job.”
He noted if a big disaster happened while he was gone, Elk Creek Fire Chief Jacob Ware or North Fork Fire Chief Curt Rogers could step in if necessary.
Lot on Mill Hollow Road now in fire district
A 10-acre parcel of land on Mill Hollow Road is now part of the Inter-Canyon Fire Protection District.
The fire board on June 8 voted to include the land owned by James Pearl into the district. Until June 8, the property was not in a fire district, though it borders the West Metro Fire District. However, the only access to the property is from Mill Hollow Road, which is in Inter-Canyon.
Fire Chief Skip Shirlaw said there was no downside to including the property in the fire district. Pearl is planning to sell the property to Eric Simpson, who wants to build a home there.
Toni Lucero, the fire district’s administrator, said Pearl had no idea the property was not in a fire district.
Riley named fire board treasurer
Ginny Riley, who was elected to the Inter-Canyon Fire Board in May, was named treasurer.
The fire board voted to give Riley that position at its meeting on June 8.