Rising from the fiscal ashes – Local firefighters bless deluxe engine

4-7new WP firetruck webRising from the fiscal ashes

 

Local firefighters bless deluxe engine

Rick Langenberg

Call it a blessing of the Woodland Park Fire Department’s new ‘mean machine,’ or a community celebration of an agency rebound from near fiscal ashes.

Last Saturday, the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District and local civic leaders celebrated the official launching of the agency’s new 2014 $630,000 Pierce Engine, equipped with top-of-the line equipment and gadgets. According to Chief Tyler Lambert, the new fire engine features more than 450 of the 1 million special items now available on modern fire trucks.

The acquisition was the department’s boldest equipment move in about 20 years.

But in a larger sense, the new state-of-the-art fire engine symbolized a complete rebound from an agency that found itself in serious financial peril several years ago.

“It was a scary time,” admitted Jim Ignatius, the president of the Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District Board, who previously served as a Teller County commissioner for 10 years, in describing the fiscal state of the agency several years ago. “We knew that we needed help.”

According to Ignatius, the agency was clobbered with depleting tax revenues from the recession, outdated equipment that was constantly breaking down, a lean crew of paid firefighters with the prospects of further reductions for responses to major emergencies and a probable decline in the district’s insurance rating. Plus, he said the agency was licking many wounds from the Hayman and Waldo Canyon fires and other disasters that struck the area. In addition, the Northeast Teller district, which serves an 82-square mile area, was facing many extra demands in service with more than 1,000 calls per year and a big increase in commercial activity.

As a result, the board president said the district went to the voters with a 3.94 mill property tax increase in November 2012.

Ignatius noted that the community responded in impressive fashion by approving its requested tax hike by a resounding margin. This paved the way for many needed improvements, according to agency leaders.

With the rebound of the fire district, Ignatius said the agency now features 12 full-time paid firefighters, a chief, fire marshal, an executive assistant, 13 part-time firefighters and two volunteers. This compares with six full-time firefighters and 40 volunteers 20 years ago. And as recently as two years ago, the agency was only equipped to respond to a major emergency with four full-time employees and a paid chief.

“We have come a long way and are headed in the right direction,” said Ignatius. “And it is only because of the community and your support.”

The big exclamation mark for the agency’s comeback was the acquisition of new equipment, such as a 4,000 gallon water tender, a command vehicle and ladder truck.

However, the major equipment purchase consists of its new signature, four-person, 4-wheel drive Pierce Engine that has been rarely touched by department firefighters and still contains the fresh smell of a new truck. According to fire department leaders, it features top-of-the line equipment for safety, reliability and overall capabilities. “We are very proud of the product,” said Captain Robert Dungan, who noted that fire district commanders traveled to various parts of the country in selecting the special engine it wanted. The district settled on an fire truck made by Pierce Manufacturing, based in Wisconsin.

The new truck features a 500 horse power Detroit Diesel engine and can carry 800 gallons of water and is equipped to pump 1,500 gallons per minute. It also contains many special gadgets, such as an inside camera, to assist firefighters in backing up the truck, and state-of-the art lighting and devices to handle adverse conditions.

Last week’s ceremony was capped by a blessing of the new engine and the hand rolling of the new truck inside the Fire Station 1 headquarters in Woodland Park, part of a historic fire department tradition that stems back to the time of horse carriages. The new truck replaces a 1996 Smeal Engine.