Coal Seam improved emergency preparedness
Post Independent Staff
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A year after the Coal Seam Fire raged through the west side of the city and surrounding lands, the charred slopes look greener.
But the underlying memories remain.
Aside from the newly-sprung scrub oak and developing grasses from airplane-dropped hydromulch, one the fire’s biggest long-lasting effects is a growth in understanding how to handle disasters in the future.
One local organization formed as a direct result of the Coal Seam Fire: Garfield County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, or VOAD.
VOAD is a statewide group of voluntary organizations that deal with disasters.
The local chapter is headed by Leslie Robinson, executive director of United Way of Garfield County, and Geneva Powell, executive director of the Garfield County Housing Authority.
Robinson and Powell said the VOAD chapter was set up to be a safety net for people affected by disasters.
While the 2002 Coal Seam Fire happened to be the catalyst for the organization’s formation, Robinson and Powell said even if the fire hadn’t happened, it would have just been a matter of time before a Garfield County VOAD chapter was set up.
“We just want to work cooperatively and collaboratively with other agencies,” Powell said. “We’re a one-place contact for the local people to put them in touch with local organizations.”
There’s no direct phone number for VOAD, rather the organization is contacted by other local organizations like the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army.
But once contacted, VOAD volunteers can help find solutions to even the most difficult problems, Robinson said.
“We could react immediately because that’s what we do,” she said. “We just want to let the community have all the safety services and work together with them to build a safety net.”
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Powell said Garfield County VOAD has gained momentum in the year since the fire, and she hopes the organization will help people to get their lives back to normal more quickly after a disaster.
“We’re very pleased with the way it’s come,” she said.
Emergency responders say they’re ready
Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario said although he was not sheriff during the fires in 2002, he has created a position in sheriff’s office to handle unexpected or emergency situations.
The position is emergency operations commander and the man in that position is Jim Sears, who previously served as undersheriff in Tom Dalessandri’s administration.
“He deals directly with (Garfield County) Search and Rescue,” Vallario said.
In addition to Sears’ new position, Vallario said he keeps in close contact with officials at the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
“We’re as prepared as we can be for something, and we’ll attack it the best we can,” Vallario said.
Vallario’s current counterpart and former boss, Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson, said the fire hit home how important communication is during a large event, along with keeping track of each officer’s location.
“We had times when you’re going 450 miles per hour and then you realize there are guys who have been working for 36 hours straight and they’re about to topple over,” he said.
But overall, Wilson said he feels good about how the department handled the fire.
He said he is confident his department will be able to handle any other disasters that might come about.
Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511
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