The Sopris Sun

Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection by the numbers

By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff

While “fire” is right there in the name, it’s just one small facet of the services Carbondale and Rural Fire Protection District provides across 323 square miles and six stations.

“Maybe Emergency Services is more accurate but not as much fun to say,” observed Deputy Fire Chief Rob Goodwin.

In fact, volunteers actually spend more time running the ambulance. According to data provided by the department for the past 12 months, of 1,197 calls for service, 576 were emergency medical service (EMS) related, with 101 motor vehicle accidents included in that figure. There were 231 service and “good intent” responses — which include things like smoke checks, citizen assists and calls that were canceled en route — and 90 occasions that called for standby or special event coverage.

According to Goodwin, the latter don’t usually result in any action, but are nevertheless considered an important part of the department’s role.

By far the most common type of fire call was a false alarm (154 for of them), followed by brush or wildland fires (18) and structure fires (14). Five vehicle fires, 13 gas leaks and 11 carbon monoxide incidents bring the total figure to 80.

Goodwin sees false alarms as par for the course and better than the alternative. “We would not want someone to not call 911 because they thought we did not want to come to a certain type of incident,” he said.

Also, while fire calls are on the rare side, they often require much larger crews than anything besides search and rescue. The national standard for structure fire response is to have at least 15 people, two engines and one ladder truck within nine minutes at a 2,000 square foot residential structure fire to safely operate. Small rural fire departments don’t always achieve that, but mutual aid from other districts does help.

Over the last year, Carbondale Fire provided mutual aid to its neighbors 23 times and received it 21 times. Those figures may not include the automatic aid area near the Eagle County line, where Basalt Fire is automatically paged as well to ensure the quickest response. In any case, mutual aid doesn’t always mean responding directly to an incident; it can also mean freeing up personnel by manning a station.

In fact, one of the biggest challenges rural departments face are concurrent calls — when someone calls 911 while crews are still out helping someone else. In the Carbondale area, that happened 71 times (for a total of 152 calls) in 52 weeks.

Preparing for those eventualities means more staff and volunteers with a wide range of expertise. It’s one of the main factors the CRFPD board has cited in its decision to go back to the voters to renew a 1.75 mill levy override for the coming three years.

“Everything from training people to personal protective gear for volunteers and paid staff to up to date apparatus and adequate staffing for incident response are directly reliant on the level of funding that we receive,” Goodwin said.