BASALT - A "significant amount" of painkillers and sedatives was stolen from the Basalt Fire Department's main station in El Jebel between Nov. 10 and Nov. 27, department officials said Friday.
The department discovered on Nov. 27 that the drugs, which included morphine and Valium, were taken from an electronic vault. The drugs are stored at the station because the fire department also provides the midvalley emergency medical response and ambulance service.
Officials launched an internal investigation immediately after the discovery to make sure there wasn't a paperwork error or some other discrepancy, according to Fire Chief Scott Thompson. When no type of discrepancy was found, the Eagle County Sheriff's Office was notified the next day, on Nov. 28.
The majority of the drugs that were stolen had expired and were being stored until they could be properly disposed, Thompson said. There are strict federal regulations on disposal procedures. A small amount of drugs that could be used by the department on ambulance calls was also taken.
Thompson said no patient was placed in danger or given an inadequate amount of drugs because of the theft.
The incident has stung the department because it appears to be an inside job. "There's somebody that I can't trust," Thompson said. "I have to resign myself to that fact."
Each employee with access to the drugs has an individual code for the electronic drug vault. Each use of a code is recorded. There was no sign of forced entry into the safe, so a valid code was used.
"Due to the facts, it is reasonable to believe that it is someone with specific knowledge of policies and procedures of the department," said a statement prepared by the fire department.
It is unknown if there was one theft or multiple thefts. The department has taken steps to prevent additional thefts. The electronic vault was the only place that was "compromised," according to Thompson.
Everyone with access to the drug vault voluntarily took an urinalysis as part of the investigation. No one tested positive for the drugs that were stolen, Thompson said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation are assisting Eagle County in the case. Eagle County Crime Stoppers is offering $1,000 for information that leads to a conviction in the case. The Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District's board of directors approved adding $4,000 to the reward, board chairman Bob Guion said.
Eagle County Crime Stoppers can be called at 1-800-962-8477 or contacted online at www.tipsubmit.com.
"We're not trying to keep this from the public," Guion said. In fact, the department wants to enlist the public's help finding the person or persons responsible for the theft.
Thompson said this is the first time he knows of that drugs have been stolen from the department in his 28 years affiliated with it as a volunteer and fire chief. He said the department depends on the trust of the public. "We can't have a thief among us," he said.
The fire district employs 13 paid staff and scores of volunteers. The number of employees with access to the drug vault wasn't released.
Thompson said the theft was disclosed in a monthly meeting for volunteers on Tuesday. One attendee noted it was probably the quietest meeting ever held, because of the bad news.
The theft from the Basalt Fire Department was the second time this fall that a public agency had drugs stolen. Aspen Valley Hospital's Clinic in Snowmass Village was burglarized in October and 1,000 pills in a secure box were taken, according to police. That theft is unsolved.