Oak Creek fire chief ends 38-year career with department he helped create
It was October 1983, and Chuck Wisecup had no intention of being a firefighter. But he was working in the Oak Creek Public Works Department at the time, and many of his colleagues were part of the then-volunteer fire department.
“Those were the guys available to respond during the day, so they automatically recruited me,” Wisecup said.
Most of the training was on the job, with a trainer traveling around the county to the various fire protections districts. Firefighters in Oak Creek were not even certified until the early 2000s, as Colorado does not require the certification.
Born in Oak Creek, Wisecup has spent all but a handful of years in the small town nestled in South Routt County. His great-grandfather came from Germany in 1903 to work in the coalmines, and Wisecup has been a notable name in the town since.
First elected chief of the volunteer department in 1996, Wisecup was its first paid employee in 2002 and, in recent years, led it through a transition to a largely paid crew.
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At 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Routt County Dispatch officially announced the end of Wisecup’s watch as chief of the Oak Creek Fire Protection District. After the announcement, fellow emergency responders from across the county radioed in their thanks for Wisecup’s service.
“Routt: Chief 81, copy,” Wisecup said, in response. “Thank you.”
The Oak Creek Fire Protection District is now almost unrecognizable to what it was when Wisecup started on the force. It once relied on about 25 volunteers to respond to fires when they could, and now has 15 people that are paid for their work, including a seven-person wildland fire crew.
The budget used to be about $200,000 per year in 1996 but has grown four-fold since. They have added countless engines, trucks and other equipment over the years. Firefighters used to get a page, head to the firehouse and then off to the fire. Now, they have people ready to respond 24/7.
“All his years in the department have led up to the ability to actually go to a full-time department,” said Brady Glauthier, former deputy chief who was sworn in by Wisecup on Tuesday as the next district chief. “To go from a volunteer organization to a full-time, paid, career staff is a big jump.”
Routt County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Ryan Adrian, who also serves as president of the Oak Creek Fire Board, said Wisecup was everything to making this transition.
“It’s huge, especially for, I don’t want to say a small area, because the Oak Creek Fire Protection District encompasses a pretty broad area, but we are pretty small,” Adrian said. “He has been a great asset for the county and the community and Oak Creek.”
Since the district has had full time staff, Adrian said he has noticed improved response times. But the district has essentially been improving since Wisecup became chief.
About two weeks after Wisecup started, the department was about to go through a Public Protection Classification review, which partially measures the quality of the department and assigns a score out of 10 that effects homeowner insurance rates — the lower, the better.
“I was scrambling,” Wisecup said. “At that time (in 1996), it was an eight, and I had hoped for a six. When we got the new rating, we had actually dropped to a five.”
The addition of another firehouse near Stagecoach Reservoir and the many homes out there was crucial in becoming a full-time department, and Wisecup said he was able to get it built for half the actual cost.
“We had a lot of volunteer contractors out there, donated materials, donated time, and we built about a million-and-a-half-dollar station for $700,000,” Wisecup said.
That firehouse is essential to staffing the department now because it allows for people to be there around the clock. Building another new station is a goal Wisecup will pass along to Glauthier.
In 2018, Wisecup was able to get Oak Creek voters to approve a measure that would no longer make them subject to the Gallagher Amendment, which restricts personal property taxes that can be collected, a crucial step to becoming a paid department.
The next year, Wisecup was able to get voters to tax themselves to help boost funding for the district.
During his 38-year career with the fire district, Wisecup also worked in Public Works, eventually as director of the department. As president of the South Routt Medical Center, Wisecup got voters to approve property taxes as dedicated funding.
When he saw things going “awry” in town, Wisecup joined the planning commission and eventually the town board. Last week, Wisecup resigned his position as mayor pro tem of Oak Creek.
Wisecup and his wife Debby already have a contract to buy property in Arizona, and their home in Oak Creek is already sold, as well. Soon, he will move away from Oak Creek for just the second time in his life — though he intends to visit.
“The biggest thing I am going to miss is this time of year, when the trees start changing,” Wisecup said. “It is going to be a whole different world, but I am not going to miss the snow.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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