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December 16, 2013
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Basalt, Snowmass explore sharing fire chief

The fire departments of Basalt and Snowmass Village intend to experiment with a shared fire chief.

The experiment will start sometime in the first quarter of 2014, assuming a suitable agreement is worked out between the two fire district’s board of directors, according to Robert Woods, president of the Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District’s board.

“I think we can start real soon,” he said.

The discussion of the departments working under a joint chief was triggered recently when Bill Boineau, president of the Snowmass Village fire district’s board of directors, approached Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson about filling the open fire chief position in Snowmass Village, according to multiple parties. Thompson said he suggested his time could be divided between Basalt and Snowmass Village, and the two boards started looking into it.

Woods said it appears that the boards of both fire districts want to give the joint chief a try. He said it would be a one-year experiment that would be examined closely by both boards to make sure it is serving taxpayers well.

If the experiment was solely to share a chief, Woods said he wouldn’t support it. He thinks there is an opportunity for a greater sharing of resources, boosting efficiency and saving money for taxpayers. The boards want to explore if the departments can share administrative personnel and accounting services, and cross-pollinate in training.

Woods said Thompson will be able to identify where resources can be shared — or not — during the one-year joint chief experiment. The fire district boards can use the results of the assessment to decide if it’s worth pursuing additional cooperation.

“If there’s no merit for the folks of Basalt, I’ll be the first to scrub it,” Woods said. “We’re not ‘for’ or ‘against’ anything right now.”

Thompson said he is excited about the possibilities. “I’m fired up about it. I have a vision,” he said.

But he cautioned that no agreement is in place yet. “It’s not a done deal. We’re still looking into it,” he said.

Basalt Fire Department employs a combination of paid staff and volunteers. Snowmass Village has an all-paid staff of 18 but is looking at recruiting volunteers. In addition to fighting fires, both departments answer medical emergency calls, which are the bulk of their services.

Employees of both departments have been informed about the possible experiment with a joint chief. Thompson said there is no push right now to consolidate or merge the departments in their core roles of fire fighting and emergency medical response.

John Mele, interim fire chief and fire marshal at Snowmass Village, said Thompson is personally known by many of the personnel there. He said Thompson has a “fantastic reputation” as a fire chief and has the support of the department if the joint chief experiment is pursued. “We have to be clear here that this is in its infancy,” he said.

All parties agree that the key to the success of a joint chief is having strong deputy chiefs in place at Basalt and Snowmass Village. Both departments have deputy chief positions, so new posts wouldn’t be created. Pete Bradshaw is the deputy chief at Basalt. Snowmass Village needs to fill its position.

Snowmass Village’s chief position has been vacant since the Aug. 3 resignation of Steve Sowles. Some of the firefighters filed grievances with the board about his management style and two firefighters wrote guest columns in the Snowmass Sun newspaper about concerns with the administration.

Woods said the two fire district boards will likely examine an intra-governmental agreement on the joint chief early in 2014 and launch the experiment.

scondon@aspentimes.com

“If there’s no merit for the folks of Basalt, I’ll be the first to scrub it.”
Robert Woods, Basalt fire board president


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The Aspen Times Updated Dec 16, 2013 03:08PM Published Dec 18, 2013 07:23PM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.