Guest commentary: Aspen Fire chief makes case for Initiative 6A | AspenTimes.com

Guest commentary: Aspen Fire chief makes case for Initiative 6A

Rick Balentine
Guest commentary

Dear citizens of the Aspen Fire Protection District,

Your Aspen Fire Department is seeking your support by voting "yes" on Ballot Initiative 6A on Nov. 6. Aspen Fire Protection District is asking voters for a general fund (operational) mill levy increase for the first time since the district was established in 1953, the same year that Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as president.

Our Fire Department's history, however, actually began in 1881, when the first volunteer firefighters came together to form the Aspen Fire Department after several tragic fires threatened our thriving town's existence. This additional funding is now needed to enable our family of dedicated women and men of AFD to make improvements in several areas to better serve you and your family and to meet the ever-increasing public safety response needs of the entire 87-square-mile district.

Did you know that Aspen Fire's operational mill levy of only 0.874 is the lowest of any fire department in Colorado, and even with the requested increase would still be the lowest in the state?

Did you also know that Aspen Fire does more than just fight house fires? Some of the services Aspen Fire currently provides besides fighting structure fires of all kind include: wildfire suppression and assessments, swift water rescue, hazardous material mitigation, motor vehicle and aircraft accidents, technical rope and confined space rescue, fire education and prevention, as well as medical response and many other services as needed to deal with any and all threats to life and property.

The needs of our community have changed dramatically since the district was formed, including mandated training and equipment upgrades required to help ensure safe and reliable delivery of services to our community and to help keep our firefighters as safe as possible when delivering these services. Unfortunately, the cost of providing all of these things required has also risen dramatically since 1953.

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Some of the identified needs for the essential funding measure of 6A include: 1) In district first-responder housing, 2) establish emergency reserve/disaster and capital replacement funds, 3) provide funding to ensure adequate dedicated career and volunteer firefighter and support staffing levels that will not just maintain our current response levels, but also to greatly improve and enhance all aspects of them whenever and wherever possible.

The recent Lake Christine Fire was yet another example that shows we can't afford to play politics with fire safety in our communities. Aspen Fire's 6A ballot initiative isn't about what is best just for the Fire Department; it's about what is best for our entire community. We all have to adapt and become more resilient and agile in response to the emerging climate challenges and other threats facing us in the future.

Our firefighters appreciate your thanks, but right now you have an opportunity to support them by voting "yes" on 6A, so they can better protect you and our entire community when an emergency strikes, no matter the type.

Please support the Aspen Fire Department by voting "yes" on 6A as well as the other fire district measures on the ballots from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

Rick Balentine is the fire chief/CEO of the Aspen Fire Department. The Aspen Times is offering a guest commentary to candidates and sides on ballot measures.

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