Steamboat firefighters promoted; changes to address gaps in service, training |

Steamboat firefighters promoted; changes to address gaps in service, training

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue firefighter and EMT Dane Visnick checks out the equipment on the ladder truck at the Mountain Fire Station on Tuesday afternoon. The fire department has promoted three personnel in an effort to address gaps in fire prevention measures and training management.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue has announced the promotion of three personnel, including the creation of one position and the return of another. 

The promotions address what interim Fire Chief Chuck Cerasoli described as a struggle to keep up with fire prevention measures and professional trainings for crew members. 

Lt. Joe Oakland, who has been with the department for 14 years, now serves as a training lieutenant. This is a new position, Cerasoli said, tasked with overseeing the various trainings firefighters must complete throughout the year.

He explained it has been difficult for the department to manage the many requirements to keep firefighters certified and adequately prepared to respond to emergencies. This comes amid an increasing call volume as Steamboat’s population grows, which has outpaced the number of new firefighters joining the department.

Lt. Joe Oakland

“We continue to be challenged with staying on top of trainings with all of our firefighters,” Cerasoli said.

Oakland’s position devotes more energy to staying abreast of those trainings as well as with state and federal certifications.

Mike Middleton, one of the department’s longest-tenured firefighters, was promoted to deputy fire marshal. He will help with fire prevention measures, such as building inspections and construction reviews. This position existed in the past but has been unfilled since the department got rid of a specific fire prevention unit following the 2008 recession. 

Mike Middleton

Some firefighters work dually as inspectors, but Cerasoli said that has not been adequate to keep pace with fire prevention duties. 

“You combine that with an increased call volume and all of the other duties, they just weren’t able to keep up,” Cerasoli said.

Among the biggest challenges is conducting safety inspections on every commercial building. According to records, Steamboat Fire Rescue conducted 172 such inspections last year, but that was not enough to cover all buildings.

Nick Kuchulis

Middleton brings 38 years of firefighting experience to his new position, and he has responded to some of the area’s most intense emergency calls. Among the memories that stand out was when he helped to extinguish flames that erupted at the Good News building following an explosion in 1994. Middleton remembers spending 10 hours in the bucket of a ladder truck, spraying water on the blaze the entire time.

Nick Kuchulis rose to Middleton’s previous position as a firefighter and inspector, which filled an open inspection role to buttress fire prevention efforts. 

Together, the three promotions should help personnel take time off for vacation or to attend trainings, Cerasoli said. 

In March, Steamboat Fire Rescue will begin a search to hire four full-time firefighters. This includes three new firefighter positions, using funds from a mill levy voters passed in November. The fourth position is the result of a job opening after firefighter Travis Janec left the department to accept a position on the Front Range.

Cerasoli hopes to select new hires by the end of April, which would allow them to join the department full-time after completing a four- to six-month, in-house training academy. 

To reach Derek Maiolo, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @derek_maiolo.

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