From ‘Joke of the Community’ to Thriving Agency
During a volatile period in 2022, the Florissant Fire Department made local and regional headlines and was a prime subject of debate on social media pages.
The agency was labeled as the “Joke of the Community’ with their board meetings turning into wild entertainment shows.
But now nearly a year after the department has gone through vast changes including a new fire chief and board members, the department appears back on track and geared for success. More notably, the agency’s response times have improved and they now operate with better equipment and a vastly new crew, many of whom are undergoing intensive training.
Erik Holt took over as interim fire chief last year when the previous department leader was let go by the board. Holt was then given the fire chief job permanently later on in 2022 after a new board was appointed by the county commissioners.
According to Holt, when he first took over the department as interim chief, he started looking at the data metrics of the agency to figure out ways to improve its protection of the community. And over the last several months, the new chief has presented proof to the board on how he has improved the response times and other metrics within the district.
Holt said that the department tracks the time it takes for their first responders to show up on a call after the dispatch call is received. The metrics separate Florissant into two districts with the Colorado Mountain Estates (CME) district running from County Road 42 on Teller 1 south to Deer Mountain Road , and the Florissant district that runs from County Road 42 north to the Indian Creek subdivision and the Hackett Gulch National Forest area.
Holt showed statistics for the first quarter of 2022 before he was hired, and then presented numbers from the second quarter to present times, dealing mostly with the time he has taken the reins of the agency. “Quarter one of last year’s response times were 18 minutes for Florissant and 13 minutes for CME,” Holt explained. “We had a steady improvement starting in quarter two. And we ended the year at 12 minutes and 10 minutes. When I pulled the numbers for January of this year, I contrasted it with last January which was at 18 and 12 minutes, and we were at eight minutes and seven minutes in response time.”
Holt also said that the department has experienced nearly a complete turnaround of the crew, with only three or four members pre-dating the new chief’s tenure. “We have recruited a whole slew of new folks,” the chief said. “We are up to 10 EMTs now, which are more qualified folks in the seats making these responses and they are doing a good job of it. We are getting people there quicker and they are more qualified. I am proud of that.”
Better Equipment For Emergencies and Responses
Holt said that the board recently finished their budget process, which opened the door for them to spend some money on equipment improvements and related enhancements. The department has recently put a down payment on a light rescue truck which will help the fire fighters respond to calls.
If the truck the department has their eyes on passes the chief’s tests, then the department will pay around $140,000 for the vehicle. “We have hundreds of miles of dirt roads in the district and we have national forest areas including Hackett Gulch which is a huger recreation area,” Holt said. “The truck will give us the capability to respond quicker with the proper equipment.”
The budget also includes the purchase of new Jaws of Life and rope rescue equipment to go on the back of the light rescue vehicle. The equipment is slated to cost the department around $35,000.
“That is going to give us a complete setup to very efficiently respond to anything including motor vehicle accidents, entrapments, and rescues,” Holt stated. “I did a full presentation on that where I gave the stats from the last five years and the data matches the need for that. We didn’t have anything that could get up to the Hackett Gulch area with rescue equipment. We had about a half a dozen major incidents up there this last summer. We had to land Flight for Life Helicopters to get people out. Adding that capability protects our weekend and recreational visitors in the community, which we serve the same as everybody else.”
The department is also purchasing four new radios that can communicate with the county’s mobile base station system for about $13,000. The new budget also included the hiring of three part time captains to assist the full time chief in responding to and commanding calls, which costs the department about $60,000 for the year.
In addition, the department has added money to the training budget. “Right out the gate in January, we have two volunteers in EMT class which is a five month commitment,” Holt said. “We just had one finish a five month commitment in Cripple Creek to get the firefighter one certification. We certified two new volunteers as certified wild land firefighters. And we certified a drone operator through the FAA. And working with our county partnership that allowed us to request a drone to be purchased through the county budget.”
On April 29, the fire department is planning a big event that will include a firefighter competition for kids, a car fire demonstration where the department will put out a car fire in front of the public, and a have a car with a dummy trapped inside a vehicle to further demonstrate their rescue skills. They then plan to have the Flight for Life helicopter land at the station during the event so people can take tours of it.
To end the day, the department will have a fundraiser dinner with a silent auction that night.