Emergency Response


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firefighter gear

A bipartisan bill to help Colorado volunteer fire departments organize and get funding was signed into law Wednesday. 

Governor John Hickenlooper approved the Volunteer Fire Department Organization Act along with 20 other bills. 

The act helps not-for-profit, non-governmental, volunteer fire departments gain official recognition and makes them eligible to receive state assistance grants. 

State fire officials estimate there are up 60 volunteer fire departments across Colorado that this bill could assist.

North Fork Ambulance Association
North Fork Ambulance Association

The North Fork Ambulance Association is facing a large budget deficit. 

The association has been operating in Delta County for 46 years. 

"We are the only emergency response in the valley for medical," Kathy Steckel, the organization's executive director, says. "The next closest emergency medical comes out of Delta."

The nonprofit has five employees and about 50 volunteer emergency responders. 

public meeting, North Fork Ambulance Association
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

The North Fork Ambulance Association is facing a large budget deficit.

That’s why the organization is hosting a series of meetings to gather ideas from the community on what to do about the problem. The first meeting was in Hotchkiss on Thursday night. 

The association is the only ambulance service provider in the North Fork Valley. About 50 volunteer emergency responders staff it. 

The nonprofit is funded by paid memberships, grants from the state, charging non-members for ambulance services and donations. 

The Fountain, Colo., Fire Department handles a lot of animal rescue calls. But in 11 years with the department, Fire Captain Rick Daniels says the call he got on Jan. 26 was "one of the more challenging animal rescue calls that I've had."

No one's exactly sure how or why, Daniels tells NPR, but two brown cows had wandered out over a frozen pond, and fallen through the half-foot of ice.

Someone driving by the pond called 911 and described seeing just the heads of two cows peeking out over the sheet of ice. The cows were up to their necks in frigid water.

About three hours southeast of Dallas, there's a city that's been hit by almost every disaster you could imagine including earthquakes, hurricanes and even bombs. It's appropriately called Disaster City.

It's a training site for first responders, but the facility is looking ahead to a different kind of disaster — infectious diseases like Ebola, and robots may play a key role.

One of the first things you see when you enter Disaster City is an enormous pile of rubble.

Paonia Fire Department
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

There are 198 all-volunteer fire departments in Colorado that serve about half of the state’s population. And a recent report finds many of these operations are seriously understaffed.

Colorado has a shortage of volunteer firefighters, nearly 3,500, according to numbers recently compiled by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News Even with statewide recruitment efforts underway, smaller agencies may have to find ways to adapt in order to survive.

One of those agencies is the small 14 person Galeton Volunteer Fire Department, northeast of Greeley. The department has been around since the early 50s and has always been volunteer driven.

Judy and Harry Gaylor live in the mountains of Evergreen, west of Denver. The 70-acre stretch of land is covered with aspen and lodgepole pines and has been in Harry's family for close to a century. But, last year, a wildfire came dangerously close to burning his family house to the ground.

Harry credits volunteer firefighters from Evergreen Fire Rescue for containing the wildfire as it raged toward their neighbor's house.

When a fire department gets a call for medical help, most of them scramble both an ambulance and a fully staffed fire truck. But that's way more than most people need, according to Rick Lewis, chief of emergency medical services at South Metro Fire Rescue Authority in the Denver suburbs.

"It's not the prairie and the Old West anymore, where you have to be missing a limb to go to the hospital," Lewis says, "Now it's a sore throat or one day of cold or flu season sometimes, and that can be frustrating for people, I know it is."

Hugh Carson

For this episode of Local Motion, we spoke to retired firefighter Hugh Carson about his experience helping to coordinate emergency response in the wake of the historic flooding that hit the Front Range in September.

Carson has a long history with disaster management, and has spoken to KVNF before about his experiences with wildfire. He joins us this time for an insider's look at how emergency personnel deal with a much different element: water, and lots of it.


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