Answering the call gets more complex for Basalt rescuers |

Answering the call gets more complex for Basalt rescuers

The Basalt Fire Department never really has an off-season, but it definitely had an “on” season this year.

The department responded to 173 fire and emergency medical calls in June, July and August. It was possibly the busiest three-month stretch in the department’s history, according to Fire Chief Scott Thompson.

Nothing out of the ordinary boosted the number of calls. It is simply a case of a growing population requiring greater service. “I don’t think people realize the impacts that growth is having,” said Thompson.

For the year, the department’s number of calls will be at or slightly below the annual average. The trend that has developed in recent years hasn’t been for the total calls to increase, said director of operations Jerry Peetz. It’s been for the calls during the summer months to increase.

In July alone there were 90 calls for service, which is about 17 percent of all calls logged through Dec. 18, Peetz said.

Three major calls in the same day used to stretch the resources of the mostly volunteer department. Now those busy days are relatively routine.

“We’re adapting better to the call volume,” Peetz said.

More medical calls than fires

Emergency medical calls and rescues account for well over half of the department’s responses ” far more than fires. Going into last weekend there had been 300 emergency medical calls and rescues out of 530 total calls.

There were 57 responses to car accidents on Highway 82 and other roads in the district. The department is responsible for responding to accidents from the Eagle-Garfield county line to Snowmass Canyon as well as the Fryingpan Valley and the various back roads.

Fires have accounted for 47 calls so far this year. As of Dec. 18 there had been property losses of $1.57 million for the year.

Although there were no catastrophic wildfires this summer like the Panorama fire in Missouri Heights in July 2002, the department responded to three wildfires and checked out countless other lightning strikes. The wildfires were on Basalt Mountain, the north fork of the Fryingpan River and Snowmass Creek.

The Basalt department assisted the Snowmass Village fire department after heavy wind knocked a tree onto a power line and sparked a fire on acreage owned by Disney CEO Michael Eisner in November.

The department inevitably receives false calls or calls where a problem is solved, like a barbecue on fire, and the department’s response is canceled. There have been 59 false calls, like fire alarms sounding for no reason, and 63 calls that the department places in the “good intent” category ” where response is canceled.

While the department doesn’t take action on those calls it still gets geared up for action, Thompson noted.

Highly trained staff

The high volume of medical calls has spurred the department to beef up coverage by staff with advanced life support (ALS) skills. That was a promise the district made the last time it went to voters seeking a property tax increase in May 2002, Thompson said.

The department has 55 volunteers and nine paid staff members. Between the paid staff at the fire station during days and employees who are paid to be on call at the station at night, someone with ALS skills is available to respond around the clock, seven days per week.

The department also converted a GMC Yukon into a “quick response unit.” That vehicle allows the person with ALS skills to dash to a call quicker.

In the case of a car crash on Highway 82, for example, the person with ALS skills will scramble out of the station in the Yukon to the scene and assess the medical treatment that’s necessary. That person arrives before volunteers in the ambulance come to the scene.

If a high level of emergency medical care is needed by a victim, the person with ALS skills will stay in the ambulance while the patient is taken to a hospital, Thompson explained. If advanced skills aren’t required, the volunteer emergency medical technicians will transport the patient.

Thompson said the fire district will also have a new ambulance in circulation thanks to funding from the state of Colorado and the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, which split the cost.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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