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Aspen joins fire fight

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A fire engine and three firefighters from the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department headed to Southern California Tuesday to help battle the onslaught of wildfires.

Shouts of “have fun,” “good luck” and “be careful” were heard as the truck pulled out of the fire department at 1 p.m.

Capt. Brian Benton, Capt. Rick Valentine and Capt. Lisa Rugieri volunteered for the assignment; they had been on standby since Saturday. They will join three Basalt firefighters along with crews from across the western United States when they arrive in Ceder Creek Falls, Calif., this morning.

The Aspen crew will be in California for a maximum of 14 days, after which they will either return to Aspen or be relieved by another local crew. Aspen Deputy Fire Chief Orrin Moon said the firefighters’ spirits were high yesterday.

“This stuff is in our blood,” Moon said. “It’s a rush for these guys to go meet different people from different departments while being a service to our colleagues.”

The fire dispatch center in Grand Junction called Aspen officials Monday morning to request a type 3 engine, the same type of truck Basalt dispatched Sunday.

The Aspen fire engine, which was purchased in 1989, is lighter and more mobile than regular structure-fire engines, making it ideal for battling wildfires. It was last used in the summer of 2002 to fight a grass fire just east of Aspen.

Although the Aspen Volunteer Fire Department has dispatched engines to fires outside of its district before, sending assistance outside Colorado is unprecedented.

“Last summer we sent assistance to a wildfire in western Colorado for 28 days, but to my recollection this is the first time we’ve sent men and equipment out of state,” Moon said.

Although the wildfire danger around Aspen is considered high, Moon said dispatching the truck won’t affect the department’s readiness.

“[Aspen Fire Chief] Darryl Grob met with us to discuss whether we could volunteer this type 3 engine,” Moon said. “We decided that since we have another brush truck in Woody Creek along with our regular structure trucks, we’d be OK. Also, the fire conditions are predicted to change for the better this weekend as the weather changes.”

In California, the local crew will be under federal jurisdiction, but will check in with the Aspen department every few days.

“These guys hopped into a truck to drive 20 hours to fight large fires through 12-hour shifts,” he said. “That’s something our community should be proud of.”

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com]


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