By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
With police officer and firefighter Mark Luttrell preparing for retirement, Carbondale is losing a fixture of late nights downtown who sought to defuse situations before they started.
“I always saw my position as more of a peace officer than a law enforcement officer,” he said. “I loved working with the Carbondale people.”
That’s not to say he hasn’t seen some action in three decades on the force. He was on scene for some of the area’s worst disasters like the MidContinent mine explosion, South Canyon Fire, and Rocky Mountain Natural Gas blow up. He vividly recalls a shootout with a man using a baby as a hostage; sheltering behind a truck as a firestorm on Missouri Heights sent tornadoes of flame into the grass behind him; and pulling teens out of the Crystal River after their car went off Highway 133.
It may not be quite the kind of excitement he had in mind when he started fighting fires in the summer of ‘75, before he’d joined the force or even turned 18.
“I was young, dumb, strong and eager,” he observed. “I tried to go on every call.”
Luttrell had come to the area the year before to work at the Mountain View Inn in Marble, although his family had been visiting for years.
“The work was just a way to stay there. The rest of the time I was hunting rocks in the mountains,” he observed. “I don’t recall a time when I was not a rock collector. It was magical, almost, at one point in my life.”
Shortly thereafter his family made the move to Carbondale. His father would later serve a stint as mayor, his mother was active in the church, and all three sons joined the fire department.
“I really feel fortunate to work with the people I did over the years. The fire department back in those days did everything,” he said. “It’s still a good group of guys, but they don’t have as many volunteers.”
On late night ambulance runs, he fell for nurse Maureen Nuckols, and the couple were married in 1985 and had a son, Aaron.
It wasn’t until ‘88, after nabbing a Geology degree and working dispatch for a few years, that Luttrell applied to be a police officer. Future chief Gene Schilling had made a similar transition, though it was Fred Williams who made the hire and Joe Brothers who trained him.
“Benefits and a good salary were hard to come by out here,” Luttrell observed. “They still are.”
While there was plenty of overlap with his fire experience, a steady paycheck wasn’t the only difference.
“There’s a lot of unknown when you go on a police call. It could be anything,” he said. “Humans are much harder to predict, and that’s always a risk.”
It hasn’t become any easier over time.
“When I first started it was mostly coal miners and farmers and ranchers. Now it’s different people and a different mindset,” he observed. “Every time you turn around there’s a new court decision somewhere that affects you.”
At 60, with three fused vertebrae and a blind eye, Luttrell is ready for a quieter life.
“I don’t know if I want to be tussling with bad guys anymore,” he said.
Moreover, Nuckols, his wife, is anticipating feeling better for a while in between ongoing cancer treatments, and the couple has been meaning to travel more.
“We’re just trying to take advantage of the time we have left together,” Luttrell said.
Before they take off on their next trip, well wishers will have a chance to celebrate his years of service with a party at the firehouse (300 Meadowood Drive) Sunday, Jan. 22 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Published in The Sopris Sun on January 19, 2017.