Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue looking into wildfire mitigation plan to implement in city limits
Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue and Steamboat Springs City Council are exploring ways to implement a long-term plan for fire rescue that would focus heavily on wildfire mitigation and response, both in city limits and throughout the state, as firefighters are frequently deployed to fight fires across the west. The discussion took place during Tuesday’s council work session.
While many fires in Routt County occur outside the city limits, council member Michael Buccino emphasized that as droughts continue to worsen, a wildfire in town is not out of the question, particularly in neighborhoods backing up to U.S. Forest Service land.
“You see, these fires in California and other places where people’s houses are burning down, and sometimes, you feel like it’s not going to happen to us,” Buccino said. “We really need to be concerned, because this can just come right in and devastate us all.”
While he did not have a cost estimate when he presented the wildfire mitigation plan during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Fire Rescue Chief Chuck Cerasoli said it will be costly.
Some of the money, Cerasoli said, will likely come from federal grants and will be offset by funds the department receives when they deploy firefighters to fight fires on federal lands, which Cerasoli said happens with many of the fires near Routt County.
Cerasoli emphasized that if council members opted to move forward with the plan, they would likely have to ask voters for some form of a tax in addition to the property tax passed in 2018 to fund a new fire station. Steamboat City Manager Gary Suiter said while voters may not have been receptive to a property tax for parks and recreation, police and fire consistently rank as two of the most important services to Steamboat residents.
“Make no mistake, it will be a challenge to fund this, and it will require additional funding,” Suiter said. “But police and fire are important to this community.”
As for what the wildfire mitigation efforts and response might look like, Cerasoli said he would like to hire seasonal firefighters for wildfire season. These firefighters would ideally be ski patrollers who are looking for work in the off-season or former firefighters living in the area who are still capable of fighting fires.
Cerasoli also said a key piece of the plan is educating the community on wildfires and how to prepare in the event a wildfire does reach town.
“We really would like to be out in the community much more educating on the dangers of wildfire but also how individuals can help themselves and their properties become more resilient,” Cerasoli said. “There’s a lot of work that can be done to continue mitigation work.”
Council President Jason Lacy said it’s important the council address wildfire mitigation now, when the need is not pressingly necessary in the city.
“It’s going to be a need that’s sadly growing — not just locally but across the state and much of the west,” Lacy said.
Because Steamboat has a small fire rescue, with four even smaller departments throughout the county, community education on wildfire mitigation is vital, Cerasoli emphasized.
“We really need everyone to take responsibility,” he said.
The plan is part of a larger strategy of getting Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue nationally accredited, Cerasoli said. The accreditation process takes about three to five years and allows the fire department to have access to more resources from the federal government.
“Accredited agencies are often described as being community-focused, data-driven, outcome-focused, strategic-minded, well organized, properly equipped, and properly staffed and trained,” Cerasoli said.
Council members did not take any formal votes because they were meeting in a work session, but they did direct Cerasoli to return at a future meeting with a more specific timeline and cost breakdown.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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