by Rick Langenberg:
The Woodland Park and Teller region is much better prepared for a major natural disaster, such as another Waldo Canyon blaze, compared to several years ago. Better yet, more federal and state resources are available through the newly-formed Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, including a special Firefighting Air Corps that will be assembled in early July.
Still, the best watchdogs for monitoring future calamities are local citizens. Even if more dollars are available for grappling with disasters, local residents are the best resources for detecting fires.
These were some of the main conclusions of a report delivered to the Woodland Park City Council last week by Tyler Lambert, the fire chief of the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District. In addition, City Manager David Buttery updated the elected leaders on steps taken to implement its Waldo Canyon Fire after-action report.
The emergency briefing followed a recent meeting during which several council members raised serious questions about the fire detection system currently in place and whether a true cooperative pact exists between Woodland Park and the U.S. Forest Service. “The weak link is detection,” said Mayor Pro Tem Carrol Harvey in a previous meeting in May.
These same concerns persisted last week, as Harvey grilled Lambert about whether the area is more prepared. She even inquired about using drones as detection devices to monitor the region for fire alerts. Councilman Gary Brovetto, meanwhile, continued his pitch for a fire detection tower on top of Pikes Peak or in another strategic spot. “I am surprised nobody is pushing for that capability,” said Brovetto, who stressed that if a fire is detected at the outset, a major part of the battle will be won.
Buttery also inquired about mutual aid agreements between Fort Carson and local agencies in the Pikes Peak region during serious blazes. He said more military resources appeared to be utilized in previous years. Despite the airing of these fire concerns, Lambert maintained that he is satisfied with the increasing level of resources in the form of money and more equipment and in mobilizing emergency responders. He cited the new Colorado Firefighting Air Corps, with a funding level of $19.7 million, which will allow for more personnel and air feet to respond to major fires within Colorado. According to Lambert, crews from the new division would be able to respond to major fires in any part of Colorado within 60 minutes.
He also cited the division’s new emphasis on developing a wildfire information and resource center and increasing funding for local firefighters. Plus, Lambert noted that regional offices of the forest service are staffed with trained firefighters. “We have a lot of resources right around us,” explained Lambert, in citing forest service outlets in Woodland Park and Lake George.
The council, though, had one basic question: Is this enough? “It is more than what we had last year,” replied the fire chief. Even with more fire preparedness efforts, Lambert stressed the importance of citizen involvement.. “The eyes and ears of our citizens are the key,” said Lambert. “They are our eyes on the ground.” Several council members agreed and credited the citizens for preventing any serious property losses during the string of arsons that inflicted Teller County two years ago.
Councilman Bob Carlsen also suggested that more public awareness is needed for the tax breaks property owners can receive for tree and vegetation mitigation work at their properties to reduce fire dangers. He stated that many people aren’t aware of the rebates they can receive.
As for other emergency updates, Buttery told the council that improvements have occurred in several deficiencies identified during the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012.
Buttery cited such enhancements as developing a better mapping system, establishing a protocol for evacuation of all public buildings, strengthening the communications with the sheriff’s office and other emergency service agencies, using live video streaming equipment to allow residents to get updates on their mobile devices immediately, setting the stage for using the Ute Pass Cultural Center for public meetings since if offers more space than city hall and improving the overall message systems for alerting residents of the need to evacuate or prepare to leave. Most council members appeared satisfied with these improvements.