City ready to commit to recruiting volunteer firefighters
The city of Glenwood Springs plans to recruit as many as 18 volunteer firefighters and hire three full-time ones in response to concerns about the fire department’s staffing shortfall.The plan marks a shift for a department that, unlike others in the area, has largely eliminated its volunteer program over the years.Fire chief Mike Piper has been skeptical in the past of the department’s ability to boost its volunteer force. But he committed to the idea in a draft of a letter the city plans to send to the Insurance Services Office, or ISO, a fire department rating agency.”We are planning an aggressive recruitment drive for additional volunteer firefighters from the surrounding area to augment the two volunteers we currently have on staff,” Piper wrote.ISO has threatened to downgrade the city’s insurance rating from a 4 to a 10, its worst. The downgrade could result in a doubling of premiums for property owners whose insurers rely on ISO’s rating system.The city has until June 2 to submit an action plan to ISO in an effort to head off the rating change.ISO had threatened the downgrade because the fire department has been unable to consistently respond with at least four firefighters to structure fires.Over the years, the department has shifted away from what was once a volunteer force, due to factors such as increased training requirements and a growing difficulty finding people with the time to serve. The city also has pointed to federal rules limiting how the city can manage volunteers.The city now has 20 full-time firefighting staff. In addition, it has expanded its part-time reserve program, recently hiring seven more reserves to boost reserve levels to 15.The city plans to pay for the three new full-time positions with the help of a grant program.Despite earlier reservations within the fire department about the prospects for reviving the volunteer force, Mayor Bruce Christensen said city manager Jeff Hecksel has assured him that the city is committed to finding volunteers and will make an enthusiastic effort to do so.”And I think the community deserves that,” Christensen said.Hecksel voiced confidence in the city’s ability to revive its volunteer program.”If you look around us, the other agencies have a healthy contingent of volunteers, and I believe that Glenwood is not leaps and bounds different from every other community in the area,” he said.He’s also optimistic that the city should be able to keep its ISO rating at a 4.Christensen said he thinks the city can exceed the four-firefighter minimum even without adding volunteers, thanks to the expanded reserve program, the intention to hire three full-time firefighters and a plan to review the department’s current response protocol in an effort to make better use of available personnel when fires occur.But he said he and some others on City Council think the department needs to look at going far beyond the four-firefighter minimum to provide a higher level of safety to the community.”Four people is not enough people. If there’s a major fire we’ve got to have more people than that, and that’s where I see the volunteers coming in,” he said.Besides addressing staffing, the city also is attending to more minor issues raised by ISO in areas such as equipment requirements.Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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