Diverse emergencies run Basalt firefighters ragged
July 10, 2006
The Basalt fire department was thrust into the national spotlight July 5 when its ambulance responded to the house where Kenneth Lay suffered a fatal heart attack.But away from the media glare, the department’s volunteers were run ragged over a seven-day period on everything from helping homeowners battle a mudslide to extricating a dead man from a precariously perched vehicle.”We expect fires. We had everything but fires,” said Basalt Fire Chief Scott Thompson. He is one of a handful of paid personnel with the department. By and large, it depends on the efforts of volunteers like Kevin McLaren.
McLaren returned from vacation at 11 p.m. on the Fourth of July; he had barely caught a few winks when the call to assist Lay came at 1:43 a.m. More than four hours passed before the ambulance crew was back at quarters and restocked for another call.Just a few hours later, at 9:54 a.m. Wednesday, crews were called to the mountainside above Phillips Trailer Park where a man had rolled a Suburban on an old abandoned route that had been used to install power lines. The department had to use its six-wheel, all-terrain vehicle to shuttle equipment and personnel to the site.After stabilizing the wreck, McLaren and others used shovels and crowbars to pry the vehicle open enough to allow another volunteer, Cleve Williams, to crawl inside, remove the seats and retrieve the body of the victim.More than four hours later, normal life resumed for the volunteers. It was short-lived.
“We can go a couple of weeks without getting a call, then we get slammed,” McLaren said.He and Williams were summoned bright and early on Thursday as members of West Eagle (County) Mountain Rescue to assist Mountain Rescue Aspen’s search for a hiker who had been missing for four days near Mount Sopris. They aided those efforts for seven hours. Another crew found the man in a scree field with a twisted a knee. He was retrieved safely.McLaren was off Friday and Saturday, but was one of about 15 firefighters who responded to a call for help when mudslides swamped a house on Hearthstone Drive (see related story). The volunteers were on the site at least two hours, helping pump the sloppy mud from the basement of a house.All told, the department’s volunteers responded to 16 emergency calls from July 3-9, beginning with a spill of about 50 gallons of gasoline at a Basalt service station on July 3. Many of the volunteers are also members of the West Eagle Mountain Rescue unit that went out twice in that same period.
The diversity of the calls was as significant as the number, Thompson said. It demonstrates what the volunteers are giving to the community, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org