Routt County ups number of wildland firefighters for 2022
Oak Creek expands its team as Steamboat is hiring its first-ever specialized firefighters
Routt County will start the 2022 fire season with more wildland fire crews than ever, as both Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue and Oak Creek Fire Protection District are staffing seasonal teams.
Oak Creek put together a seven-person crew for the first time last year and will increase that number to 15 this summer. In Steamboat — which has never had dedicated wildland firefighters before — there will be two firefighters with the specialized training.
“Their primary responsibility, obviously, is to fight wildland fires,” said Oak Creek Fire Chief Brady Glauthier. “In between that, we put them to work on mitigation projects.”
Steamboat Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli said crews have been successful responding to wildfires in the past because of partnerships between districts and state and federal entities. Still, Cerasoli noted that over the last five years, the department has been on edge.
“With recent dramatic events that we’re seeing … not only in our region but now very much in other regions,” Cerasoli said, “the concern for wildfires, the concern for unprecedented situations, I think, is just growing to the point that we really need to face it head-on.”
All of the Steamboat firefighters are trained to respond to all types of emergencies including wildfires, but the two new positions will be largely focused on outreach and education in the beginning of the season.
Cerasoli said he wants them to perform some property assessments and to help homeowners do their own assessments and protect their own property.
As the season progresses, Cerasoli said, the positions would do mitigation work on city and other public land in the district. One effort would be to bring together stakeholders around Emerald Mountain to identify, find funding for and start working on mitigation projects up there.
“The grand plan would be that we can continue to build our wildfire response team seasonally so that we have enough people to really have a couple crews out there,” Cerasoli said.
In Oak Creek, Glauthier said, there are three full-time members on the wildland crew and the rest of the seasonal crew will start in May, when they will begin a couple weeks’ worth of training.
“We have a large percentage of our crew that has never seen fire, so we put them through extensive training,” Glauthier said. “Once that is completed, we’ll start working on the mitigation projects, and then of course, if a fire happens, they’ll go fight fires.”
There are two significant projects Glauthier said crews would start on this May. One is on the west end of the district along Routt County Road 29 near the Rio Blanco county boarder, and the other is near Green Ridge above Stagecoach Reservoir.
While just two of the five fire protection districts in the county have standing wildland teams, Glauthier said he makes his team available to help out throughout the county. Because these teams are trained to be initial attack groups on a wildfire, he said they can respond immediately.
Cerasoli said being deployed to fight other fires in Colorado or elsewhere is another role for these firefighters and will help them gain valuable experience.
Glauthier said Oak Creeks’ crews will be used for both local and regional firefighting as well, with at least one of the crews being deployed elsewhere. He stressed that at least one of the crews will remain on site locally.
“We always keep at least one crew here to make sure that we’re covered, to make sure we’re protected here locally,” Glauthier said. “Even if there’s a big fire happening down in southern Colorado and we send crews there, we’ll always keep one of the crews here.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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