Traffic sparks plans for new fire station | AspenTimes.com

Traffic sparks plans for new fire station

Chad Abraham

Sharply higher gridlock this summer in and around Aspen is slowing the response times for firefighters and could be “a recipe for tragedy,” a fire official said.On Tuesday, officials said they’re considering a small fire station at the Aspen Business Center to handle the problem.Traffic is expected to worsen when residents begin living in Burlingame, a development that will need firefighting services in its own right. But it was Aspen Valley Hospital that was center to a nightmarish scenario put forth by former Councilman Tom McCabe.Speaking at a City Council meeting Monday, he said Aspen was facing a potential crisis due to the afternoon crush of drivers in the winter. McCabe wondered what would happen if a fire ignited at the hospital around 4 p.m. in the middle of winter. Skiers migrating back to Aspen would greatly impede rescue personnel from reaching the scene, as would inclement weather.But summertime has seen no let up in traffic. Vehicles are backing up at a number of places, including the S-curves, both bridges outside town and at Buttermilk.Drivers are generally good at yielding to emergency vehicles, Aspen Fire Chief Darryl Grob said. The problem is there are many places were vehicles simply have no place to go.”It’s becoming more dangerous for the responders, it’s becoming more dangerous for the citizens, and ultimately if you look down the road, I quite honestly don’t see that being mitigated anytime soon,” Grob said. “The citizens for the most part are pretty cooperative. If they have got some place to go [out of firefighters’ way], they’ll get out of our way. Our concern is trying to make sure they have some place to go.”Ellen Anderson, Pitkin County’s emergency management coordinator, said it makes sense to have firefighters on both sides of Castle Creek and Maroon Creek bridges.”There’s just so much traffic. All of us who drive it every day know that gridlock is becoming commonplace now,” she said. “Trying to get a first-response vehicle through that traffic takes more time.”Grob said his department has been analyzing possible sites for a substation. What is clear, he said, is that gridlock has become increasingly problematic for his department and others.And growth will not slow anytime soon.”I’ve seen an estimate, for example, that in Burlingame, 8 percent of the resident population of the city of Aspen will live out there,” Grob said. “When you factor in Highlands, Tiehack, West Buttermilk, Truscott and North 40, what we began to realize was that we really were in a situation where we needed to be able to consistently deliver emergency services.”Otherwise, ultimately it’s a recipe for tragedy.”Grob said fire officials have been working with Pitkin County and developer John McBride, who built the Aspen Business Center, in securing land for the fire station. A bond measure to fund it could go to voters in 2006, he said. The station would be behind the Amoco gas station, adjacent to Highway 82.”Some of the decisions that we’re making today have very, very long-range consequences,” Grob said. “When you’re dealing with life-safety issues, be it a fire or an emergency medical [situation] or law enforcement, all of our criteria for response are measured in minutes. In my opinion, [a substation] is the smart thing to do.”Anderson agreed, saying the plan makes “a lot of sense.” She said development on the downvalley side of the bridges is predictably increasing traffic volumes.”There are more cars, more times of the day and of the year when traffic is more and more difficult for first responders to get through. So we need to plan for that,” Anderson said.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com