Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District prepares for big move, next chapter
Wildfires are the No. 1 natural hazard risk in Pitkin County, and it’s a concern that Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Issel said fire officials think about on a daily basis.
Pitkin County Emergency Manager Valerie MacDonald, who also identified wildfires as the county’s No. 1 natural hazard risk, said, “If anything, our risk of wildfire could even be greater than five years ago because of our extended hot, dry weather patterns and fuel build up in the forest.”
The local tax increase approved by voters in November will mean a new, 22,000-square foot station in Snowmass and gives fire officials more confidence to fight wildfires in the future.
The fire district intends to demolish its existing site at 5275 Owl Creek Road sometime mid to late-April, and the new station is expected to be about 4,000 square feet larger.
“We’re not looking to notably expand the department per se,” said Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District Capt. Scott Arthur. “We’re mostly catching the station up to where we are and with the anticipation that in the next 40 years, we want to make sure it fits our needs.”
Issel added, “It will continue to allow us to provide a high level of service not only now but into the future. And we are very appreciative of the public and Snowmass citizen support that we’ve received.”
The local officials know the severity of a wildfire and its implications not only on peoples’ lives, but also on the town’s environmental and economic well-being.
“While our No. 1 priority during a wildfire is always life safety, followed by protecting property, the devastating impact to our local tourism economy cannot be overlooked,” MacDonald said. “People don’t like looking at burned-out mountainsides with black trees. A devastating wildfire would also impact air quality and infrastructure such as roads, water and utilities. It would definitely be a blow to our local economy.”
GROWTH OVER THE YEARS
Snowmass’ fire station was established in the early 1970s, first as extension as of the Aspen Fire Department and shortly after as its own tax district, according to Arthur.
The all-volunteer Fire Department, located along Owl Creek Road, originally consisted of two bays to store apparatus, Issel said.
Sometime in the 1980s, the district began to hire paid staff members, including a few administrative positions and firefighters, Arthur said.
Around this time, the station added three bays and developed a residence program for firefighters and crew members.
By 1990, the fire protection district had brought on its first 24-hour paramedic; in 1991, Arthur joined the team as the second.
What’s important to understand, Arthur said, is that “the department was growing just as the village was growing.”
‘READY TO PULL THE TRIGGER’
After more than three decades of renovating and expanding its fire station, the department reached a point in which it could no longer continue to grow or fix wear and tear with Band-Aids, Issel said.
In 2006 or 2007, the department conducted a feasibility study and underwent “an extensive process” determining how to best move forward with its deteriorating station, Arthur said.
“Literally, we were talking about dates to go before the town and ask taxpayers for their support” in constructing a new facility, Arthur said. “We were ready to pull the trigger.”
Then, the 2008 economic recession hit and “we put the brakes on,” he said.
FINALLY, FORWARD MOTION
Ten years after a feasibility study determined that demolition of the fire station would be more efficient than a remodel, the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District revisited its plan to ask the town and community for its support.
“There are major structural issues with this building and we needed to do something. … We can’t close the doors, there are water leaks and foundational issues, one corner of the station is sinking; it’s aging and deteriorating,” Issel said. “Our current infrastructure is unsafe, outdated, cramped and not up to code.”
Arthur added, “We could put $10 million into this thing and it would still be too small.”
In November 2016, voters backed a property tax that will primarily fund construction of the new station, which is estimated at about $17 million, according to Tom Newland, a consultant for the project.
A 4,200-square-foot, tan-colored tent at Snowmass’ Rodeo Grounds will house a temporary fire facility starting sometime next month. The site will occupy approximately 10,000 square feet or 10 percent of the Rodeo Lot at the entryway to Snowmass.
Along with the tent, the station also will consist of modular mobile structures: one two-bedroom trailer and one three-bedroom trailer, both of which will house a kitchen and living room, and one small trailer that will serve as a shared office space for staff.
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