Four run for two seats on Aspen Fire Board
The ballots are out, and four candidates are running for two open seats on the Aspen Fire Department board — each for four-year terms.
Ballots can be mailed or dropped off at the Headquarters Station (420 E. Hopkins Ave.) between 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m-7 p.m on Election Day, May 2. Visit aspenfire.com for more information or for instructions on how to go about getting a ballot if you didn’t receive one.
Incumbent board President John Ward is vying with challengers Charles Cunniffe, Mike Lyons, and Jill St. John Wagner for those two seats on the five-member board.
Cunniffe, a long-time architect in Aspen who ran unsuccessfully in 2022 for a board seat, did not return email or phone messages in time for this story. But the other candidates took some time to talk about their candidacies.
Jill St. John Wagner
Actress Jill St. John Wagner has owned a home in Aspen since 1972 and, before that, was a frequent visitor for eight years.
She has served on the board of Friends of Aspen Fire and is now retired from her acting career.
“My husband and I have lived in Starwood for 24 years, and I have served on the Starwood Metropolitan Board for close to 10 years,” she said. “Recognizing the threat of wildfire, our Metropolitan Board had great success in funding and building a fire house there.”
She said it was completed about four years ago and has two apartments to house firefighters and their families.
“It was a first: building a firehouse with a fire engine in a subdivision,” she said.
Today, the Starwood Fire House serves 100 homes and responds to the entire Aspen area.
She said her main concern is for any wildfire affecting the entire Roaring Fork Valley.
“Due to climate change, the question is not if, but when. No group of people has my greater respect than our firefighters, first responders, and EMTs. They need our support. I am hoping that by serving on the Aspen Fire District Board, I will be able to help with facilitating response to impending problems,” said St. John Wagner.
She acknowledged of the greatest challenges for the fire district is employee housing.
“As we all know, this is a problem with the entire workforce of Aspen. I’m very proud that Aspen Fire District built an apartment house near the ABC, and I hope being on the board will enable me to facilitate more housing for our first responders,” she said.
Mike Lyons has served the citizens of the Aspen Fire Protection District for 23 years as a volunteer firefighter. He believes his ground-up perspective is important to bring to the board.
“I understand what it looks like to have your worst day and have the heavy cavalry show up at your doorstep to take care of you,” he said. “I know what resources are needed from the citizens to ensure this happens.”
He was born and raised in Aspen. This is his home.
“I have had the blessing of growing up here, and I have always felt a desire to give back to the community. Aspen is a special place, and the fire protection district is here to serve all,” he said.
“The biggest challenge for the fire protection district going forward will be supporting its people and keeping it a community-based organization. Volunteers, those folks that willingly get up at 3 a.m. to help their neighbor, are the backbone of the fire protection district. The principal of neighbors helping neighbors in the Aspen Fire Protection District has a long history and should continue in the future.”
Lyons said he believes that the entire staff at the fire department needs the organizational culture and support from all aspects of leadership to ensure successful mission delivery.
John Ward has lived in Aspen for 23 years and, as a banker, financed more than a billion dollars of real-estate projects in the valley and reviewed hundreds of financial statements of small and large businesses.
His wife, Ashley, attended high school in Aspen and runs a small business in the core, and his two sons attend Aspen schools. Ward has also served on the fire-district board for approximately eight years and is currently the board president.
“The fire district is like a small business with employees, equipment, assets, and liabilities. Except it’s run by taxpayers’ dollars, which holds a higher level of accountability. I bring a practical banker’s mindset to allocating those funds, putting a critical eye on what the district needs, what it wants, and what voters expect,” said Ward.
During his tenure on the board, he has seen drastic shifts.
Ward said he has seen significant organizational change and development.
“With the voters’ support, we have built affordable firefighter/first responder housing in the North 40, we moved to a combination pay and volunteer staffing model that allows the district to staff specific stations 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We equip our responders with the most up-to-date equipment possible and have been updating an aging fleet of capital assets.”
He added, “The district has several future challenges, including a leadership transition, wildfire issues, and continuing the recruitment and development of new volunteers because the current model doesn’t work without robust volunteer support.”
Ward is most concerned about wildfires: “Basalt was a wake-up call to all in the upper valley about the potential dangers of dry conditions, beetle-killed forests, and a narrow valley.”