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Glenwood fire calls go up

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs correspondentAspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS As the Glenwood Springs Fire Department works to boost its staffing, it is continuing to see big increases in demands for service as well.Calls increased by 11 percent in 2006, and 26 percent over the last three years, according to chief Mike Piper’s year-end report.The department responded to 1,512 calls last year, and Piper thinks the department is on a pace to exceed 1,800 calls this year, which would be a 17 percent increase.The city has been boosting fire department staffing after the Insurance Services Office last year threatened to downgrade the city’s rating from a 4 to a 10, the worst possible. ISO cited the department’s inability to consistently respond initially with at least four firefighters to structure fire calls.The downgrade could have resulted in sharp increases in some insurance premiums and even made it difficult to obtain coverage. However, ISO backed off the threat after the city responded to the staffing concerns.The department has boosted staffing to a total of 54 by adding 16 part-time firefighters and eight volunteers.Piper said the department also has made equipment upgrades requested by ISO. As a result, it has asked that rather than downgrading the department, ISO improve its rating to a 3, which could result in some insurers charging cheaper premiums.”It’s been kind of a rough year, and things are settling down here again. … Things are going really well lately, and the pressure’s kind of come off a lot of people,” Piper said.Yet the pace of activity continues to go up. Piper said one factor is the opening of the Glenwood Meadows retail development, which resulted in more medical and fire alarm calls last year. Some of those fire alarms were set off by dust and other construction-related activity, a problem which seems to be decreasing now that most stores are open, he said.The department received Glenwood Meadows development impact fees that it has been able to put toward equipment purchases. The development also has contributed to a big jump in the city’s sales tax revenues, which has allowed the city to add one full-time firefighter and consider adding two more.Emergency medical service and rescue calls made up 61 percent of all activity for the department last year. More than 70 percent of the time, the department responded to EMS and other calls within the 4- to 6-minute response times recommended by the American Heart Association.Piper said the response time averages 5.43 minutes when responses to emergencies at Sunlight Mountain Resort aren’t included in the total. He said it takes about 18 minutes to get to Sunlight, which has medical crews that provide first aid before a department ambulance arrives.The department has stations downtown, in West Glenwood and up Four Mile Road, the road leading to Sunlight. Staffing shortages last year meant that some stations weren’t always open, but Piper said all three have remained open 24 hours a day this year.The department responded to 10 building fires last year, twice the number in 2005. Losses totaled more than $1.1 million, primarily because of the Grand Avenue Mall fire downtown in March and a fire behind the Shell Westmart and Geno’s Liquors in April.Saturdays are the busiest days for the department in terms of calls, and late afternoons and early evenings are the busiest times of the day.Meanwhile, although the closure of one of the Hanging Lake Tunnels is adding to the drive time for Interstate 70 motorists in Glenwood Canyon, it’s resulting in at least one benefit – fewer accident calls for the department.”The speeds in that canyon are way down. … As the speeds come down the calls come down,” Piper said.


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