Close vote pays off for Basalt fire department | AspenTimes.com
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Close vote pays off for Basalt fire department

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times
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The Basalt fire department had a tough sell persuading voters in May 2002 to approve a property tax increase for new fire trucks, ambulances and emergency medical services staff.The tax increase of 1.7 mills squeaked by on a 145-143 vote. It was supposed to raise an estimated $483,700 in extra revenues starting in 2003, but collections lagged behind projections.Bob Guion, a member of the fire district’s board of directors, acknowledged the tight vote put additional pressure on the board to prove to constituents it was being fiscally savvy. Four years later, he believes the board has delivered on its promises.The department’s first step was to create a paid, full-time advanced emergency medical services staff. It also socked away revenues from the additional property tax and, this year, started replacing fire trucks and ambulances that had been in service for up to 30 years.

In the latest step to replace the aging fleet, the district added two fire trucks unparalleled in versatility, according to fire chief Scott Thompson.The two fire trucks are four-wheel-drive with a short wheelbase, ideal for tackling wildland fires. They have water pumps big enough for urban-style firefighting. They carry more water than the average truck of their type and also carry a special, biodegradable foam that quadruples the firefighting capability when injected with air.Thompson said the new trucks dovetail perfectly with the department’s evolving needs in a small town with booming growth in rural areas. There has been an increase in development of homes on mountain lots with steep, narrow driveways. The old fire trucks had trouble negotiating those areas; the new trucks tackle them with ease.”Any type of a call, this is the truck that’s going to be responding,” Thompson said.

When fighting wild fires, the operators can activate an apparatus that covers the cab of the truck with a curtain of water for a short time – long enough to save firefighters’ lives if they are overrun by flames.The fire department purchased two of those trucks for $314,000 each. One is stationed at the department’s El Jebel headquarters, the other at the Old Snowmass station. A third is in the budget for next year.The district is so thoroughly convinced that these are the trucks of the present and future that it sold a traditional ladder truck, Thompson said. The new trucks should be the mainstays of the fleet for the next 20 years. Guion said the 2002 tax increase should take care of the district’s capital replacement needs indefinitely.Without the tax increase, Thompson said he doesn’t know where the district would be right now. The TABOR Amendment to the state constitution put the district in a jam by restricting its ability to collect revenues at a time when demands in the growing district soared, he said.

“In 2000, we were sitting there with an aging [fleet] and no way of replacing them,” Thompson said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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