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Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Leif Sackett sworn in during first ever change of command ceremony

A bagpipe ceremony commences during a change of command ceremony Saturday at Station No. 41 in Rifle. Ray Erku / Post Independent

Before an enormous American flag draped across the wall, outgoing Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Randy Callahan took the department’s fire engine red flag with a distinct sense of decorum and handed it to newly sworn-in chief Leif Sackett.

Adorned in traditional firefighter dress uniforms in front of cohorts and family inside Station 41 in Rifle on Saturday, the two chiefs would carry out the first official change of command ceremony in CRFR history.

“The time has come for me to climb down the ladder,” Callahan said during a speech prior to Sackett being sworn in.



After serving two years with CRFR, a department that serves New Castle, Silt, Rifle and surrounding areas, Callahan now steps away from a 45-year career as a firefighter. The Michigan native said, however, that being CRFR fire chief was the “pinnacle of his career.”

“It’s been a distinct honor to serve with CRFR,” Callahan said. “The women and men of CRFR … they all have a commitment to service, they embrace a shared vision.”



Outgoing Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Randy Callahan listens to a speech being given by incoming chief Leif Sackett during a change of command ceremony Saturday at Station No. 41 in Rifle. Ray Erku / Post Independent

Such a ceremonious occasion, however, is the product of recent financial budget cuts. Amid diminishing revenues from the extractive industry and a failed mill levy in May, CRFR was forced to shutter Station No. 43.

Callahan, who was presented the the George Mazzotti Fire Chief of the Year Award by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control in October, offered to retire early in order to help stymie the department’s financial woes, saying he’s a “casualty of the department’s budget situation.”

“The time has come for me to climb down the ladder.” – Randy Callahan

His speech also acknowledged that his early retirement is a proactive move for the long-term future of the department.

In addition, he said rather than establishing himself as a civilian, he’s going to become the department’s “groupie.”

“To chief Sackett… working with you has been a joy,” he said. “If I could start my fire career over, I’d love to ride on a fire engine with CRFR.”

Following Callahan’s speech, the ceremonial honor guard carried a symbolic fireman’s silver axe as well as the department’s flag toward the podium to initiate the ceremony. Within moments, CRFR Board President Alan Lambert would swear in Chief Leif Sackett.

Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Leif Sackett being sworn in during a change of command ceremony Saturday at Station No. 41 in Rifle. Ray Erku / Post Independent

“As I stand here today, I’m extremely humble and very honored to have the support of our board of directors, of all the staff that we have as well as my family to see me be the next fire chief of CRFR,” Sackett said.”

Sackett praised Callahan.

“I’m very excited that we get to start this journey together,” he said. “From the desires and aspirations of what we envisioned CRFR to become, our foundation has been set to for the building blocks of tomorrow with the leadership of chief calla and what he’s done for the last two years with us.”

Colorado River Fire Rescue Chief Leif Sackett gets his badge adjusted during a change of command ceremony Saturday at Station No. 41 in Rifle. Ray Erku / Post Independent

Before CRFR engineer Gene Robertson ushered in the end of the ceremony with bagpipes, Sackett would also praise the efforts of his colleagues on the CRFR board, the senior leadership known as “the hallway” and his family.

“From the many nights away from home, missing school and sporting events, leaving in the middle of dinner or walking out of a movie theater, your big smiles and carefree attitudes made more of a difference than you know,” Sackett said.

A ceremonial fireman’s axe rests on a table during a change of command ceremony Saturday at Station No. 41 in Rifle. Ray Erku / Post Independent

Sackett started his career as a volunteer firefighter in 1999 in eastern Colorado. He’s been with CRFR since 2006.

Callahan, meanwhile, said after the ceremony that he looks forward to spending retirement at his home in Walden snowshoeing and skiing. He also said he’s going to miss his in-depth conversations with Sackett, the laughter of his senior leadership and his department.

“We are in severe, significant financial times, but this membership has the heart and soul nobody can take from them,” he said. “That’s something you give away, and they demonstrated that today.”

rerku@postindependent.com


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