Steamboat council backs emergency service consolidation
Chief talks of risks from simultaneous blazes as panel supports consolidation plan
Steamboat Springs — Fire Chief Ron Lindroth said Tuesday that dangerous problems could arise if more than two minor fires occur simultaneously in Steamboat Springs or its surrounding area, describing ominous scenarios while asking city officials to support plans for a restructured consolidation of fire and emergency services.
Lindroth got that support, as Steamboat Springs City Council members unanimously gave an informal go-ahead to continued work toward a new intergovernmental agreement between the city and the rural Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District.
The new agreement could be crafted by summer and implemented as soon as Jan. 1. It would transfer Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue — and its assets, including the downtown and Mount Werner fire stations — to the rural district, which would oversee fire and emergency medical services for the city and surrounding areas.
The city, for at least the first several years of the new agreement, would pay an annual fee to the rural district for fire and emergency services. But the ultimate goal would be a voter-approved property tax to provide a permanent funding source. That vote could occur within five years.
“Where we are, in our present funding, is just barely meeting our needs and certainly not meeting our needs as we move into the future, for adequate funding for emergency medical needs and fire,” Kathy Connell, president of the rural district’s board of directors, told the council.
“We have a funding problem with fire and emergency services, and we will have a more increasing problem into the future as our population grows and, especially, as our EMS calls increase.”
Lindroth said Fire Rescue keeps eight people on duty, split between the two fire stations. That’s enough to handle two minor fire incidents at the same time, he said, or one medium-level fire. But Lindroth said that’s not enough personnel for “a sustained firefight” or a rescue effort in a large, full-throttle building fire.
Those efforts could require assistance from off-duty personnel, he said, which can significantly increase response times. Lindroth said Fire Rescue meets proper response times on only 5 percent of calls from the rural district, which surrounds Steamboat.
“Some of these numbers are really stark,” Councilman Jon Quinn said, citing the 5 percent figure. “It seems clear that there’s an impending crisis.”
The rural Fire protection District assesses a property tax on its residents, who live outside city limits, and contracts with the city for fire and emergency services.
Lindroth and Interim City Manager Wendy DuBord have said the proposed consolidation, with a successful property tax vote, ultimately would remove funding for fire and emergency services from a strapped city budget that can spur competition for dollars.
The rural district’s board of directors announced in December its intention to bring a property tax and consolidation proposal before area voters this year, partly for that reason, but Connell said the board decided more public education first had to occur.
“We think it will fail, and we think it’s premature,” Connell said about a ballot issue this year.
DuBord said implementing the proposed consolidation would involve numerous challenges.
“There will be difficult things to talk about (such as) transferring millions of dollars’ worth of assets,” she said. “There will be issues of control, assets and property, responsibility and levels of service and contracts.
“Sometimes the city constituents have a different opinion than the district constituents. We’ll have to come to a lot of agreements and compromises over that.”
Tuesday’s discussion was informational only. Lindroth said public education efforts would take place in coming months, along with work to create the new agreement.
Connell said she hopes to see consolidation and funding efforts move forward before injuries or fatalities occur, not after and said the situation becomes scarier for her personally as she gets older.
“I don’t want to be that fourth-out call,” she said.
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com
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