Glenwood Springs, west Garfield County fire districts may merge
December 1, 2010
GARFIELD COUNTY – Three area fire departments and rural fire and ambulance districts serving the Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Silt and Rifle areas may reorganize as a regional fire authority.
Fire chiefs from the Rifle Fire Protection District, Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, and the combined Glenwood Springs Fire Department and rural Glenwood Fire Protection District have been discussing the possible creation of a fire authority since spring, according to Rifle Fire Chief Mike Morgan.
“When Burning Mountains took over the 911 ambulance services, they contracted with us to provide some different staffing needs,” Morgan said. “That sort of started the conversation about whether it would make sense to look at the three organizations doing some more work together.”
The three departments have since signed an Automatic Aid Agreement, allowing them to “share resources and personnel based upon actual or anticipated response needs.” The agreement essentially allows the departments to act as a fire authority before one exists.
Morgan, Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Mike Piper and Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin are now looking to the respective elected fire district boards as well as Glenwood Springs City Council for direction.
They propose to form a steering committee made up of elected officials from the affected jurisdictions to study the details and look at the feasibility of forming a regional fire authority.
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Glenwood City Council is set to hear a presentation on the proposal and make steering committee appointments at its regular Thursday night meeting this week.
The ultimate goal would be to enhance service levels and increase department efficiencies by looking at more shared aid agreements involving both equipment and personnel, Morgan said.
While an all-out consolidation of the various fire districts is not the initial goal, he said it could very well be determined to be the ultimate solution.
“The longer-term goal may be a merger,” he said. “It is something we’ve been talking about at the fire chief level, but we’ve hit the point where it’s time to get the elected officials involved. They’re the ones who would need to make the decisions.”
The Glenwood and western Garfield County districts are not the only area fire districts considering a merger as a way to save taxpayers money and increase efficiency by pooling resources. The Carbondale and Basalt fire districts are engaged in similar discussions, as are the Eagle and Gypsum fire districts.
“It is very common around the state for districts to share services, and with the economic conditions there may be some other ways to save money,” Morgan said. “Right now, we’re already sharing a lot of people between our three districts. We literally have people on all three rosters.
“It’s wise to evaluate those kinds of things and see if there are ways to save money by working closer together,” he said.
Glenwood Springs City Manager Jeff Hecksel said it’s an idea the City Council has indicated it would at least consider. Currently, the city fire department is funded out of the city’s general fund, while the rural district has a property mill levy to cover expenses for fire protection and ambulance service in the outlying areas.
“For an area this size, with a service area as large as these districts have, there seems to be some economies of scale that you don’t have with the individual jurisdictions,” Hecksel said. “The notion here is to do a more formal analysis and investigation as to whether this makes sense or not.”
The steering committee is proposed to work closely with the chiefs on the administrative details, while the operational level direction will continue to come from the department staffs, Morgan said.