Community profile: Answering the alarm
Glenwood Springs Fire appoints Doug Gerrald as new deputy fire chief
While on a structure fire call early in his career, Doug Gerrald and a fellow firefighter were clearing a house that had filled with smoke, making it difficult to see. Though there were no people in the home, the family dog was still unaccounted for.
“My partner and I did come across the family German shepherd scared to death hiding under the couch cushions,” Gerrald said. “We were able to rescue the dog, and he was just fine. The house sustained moderate damage, which didn’t seem much of a concern to the family. However, they were ecstatic we had saved the dog.”
Thirteen years after joining the Glenwood Springs Fire Department, Gerrald doesn’t feel there is one particular career moment that stands out as the most rewarding but instead finds gratitude in a composite of thousands of incidents and interactions.
In early August, Gerrald was officially sworn in at a Glenwood Springs City Council meeting as the new deputy fire chief.
Gerrald grew up mostly in the southeast and a couple of places overseas because his father was in the military. He went to elementary school in Izmir, Turkey, and high school in Germany, where his family really started getting into skiing and winter sports.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
“We would hop on the Autobahn and go down to Switzerland or Austria every other weekend and go skiing,” Gerrald said.
His love for skiing would later play a role in deciding to attend Appalachian State University in North Carolina, where he obtained a degree in marketing and a minor in advertising.
“I was a ski instructor in college and decided to move out and play for a year in Breckenridge and never really got back into the business world because one year turned into two, turned into three, then turned into quite a long time,” he said.
It was while working part-time at a Pizza Hut that he got to talking with a manager about volunteering as a firefighter. Within a matter of days he was signed up as a volunteer with the Red, White and Blue Fire Department in Breckenridge.
“The rest is history,” Gerrald said.
He continued as a volunteer for six years, then obtained a fire science degree through the department in exchange for a certain number of shifts before becoming a full time firefighter and later relocating to Glenwood Springs with his family in 2008.
Gerrald has a certain level of experience in pretty much every role in the department from line-level firefighter EMT to battalion chief, which he has been since 2010.
“[The job is) exciting. It’s very rewarding to help people in their time of need. It seems like every day is different; there are very few routine days,” Gerrald said. “Every time the alarm goes off you have no idea whether it’s going to be a structure fire, wildland fire, emergency medical service call, car accident. … The list goes on and on. You have to be good at a lot of different disciplines, which is one of the things that make it such a great job.”
Gerrald will serve as both battalion and deputy chief until that battalion chief position can be filled.
Deputy fire chief
The department has been looking into the deputy fire chief position for multiple years to relieve some of the pressure and workload put on Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Garry Tillotson, as well as the upper level management positions.
“It’s been a position that I thought we could make use of or benefit from for a long time,” Tillotson said. “A lot of the recent discussions about evacuation planning just kind of helped push the cause over the top. I just needed additional management help.”
The position became available earlier this year, and the department conducted a nationwide search. Someone who knew the area and the department, however, met the needs to best fill the position.
“Doug brings with him 13 years of historical perspective for Glenwood Springs Fire,” Tillotson said. “He understands a lot of the key players and a lot of the history that goes with some of the change that we hope to bring. Even though we did a national search, at the end of the day that historical perspective has a lot of value to us.”
“I am a known entity with a proven track record in the department, and I had a lot of support from within,” Gerrald said. “I know the valley, it’s my community — I know the strengths, I know the weaknesses. Bringing somebody in from the outside, you may not have a lot of that.”
Because the position is so new to the department, the exact parameters and responsibilities of the job are still being ironed out.
“There are so many needs and so many priorities with this role that there are going to be many different iterations of it. It might look significantly different two years from now than its does currently, and that’s OK. I took on this role understanding that it isn’t clear-cut,” Gerrald said. “That’s one of the cool things about this role is I can help shape what it looks like based on the needs of the department and the community.”
One of the main goals Gerrald looks forward to is developing common protocol and procedures between the three neighboring fire entities.
“Personally I’m just excited there are a lot of different opportunities for this role, and there’s a chance to work with the three battalion chiefs and three fire chiefs and grow some of our policies and procedures and how we operate … to really progress as the fire service in this county,” Gerrald said. “We will never 100% get to where we do things identically but [hope] to move closer with a lot of those big ticket items.”
Gerrald will also play a crucial role in emergency and evacuation planning — a hot topic for many years. Last year’s hours-long closure of Interstate 70 due to the 111 Fire in South Canyon caused major gridlock in West Glenwood, and motorists were left sitting in traffic for hours with nowhere to go.
“It just takes a lot of time-consuming coordination with agencies such as CDOT, state patrol and (Garfield) County and to an extent even Eagle County,” Tillotson said. “I think he can take the lead on connecting the dots and making that happen in addition to sharing the load with the day-to-day, month-to-month management of the fire department as we know it.”
Another factor that went into bringing the deputy fire chief position to Glenwood Fire was the gradual increase in call volume over the last decade or so.
“Since 2008 the town seems to be getting busier. We have significantly increased our call volume as a fire department,” Gerrald said. “I would have to look at stats, but when I first started here in ‘08 I think we had about 1,300 calls, and this year we are probably going to come in at 2,200 at least.”
The majority of the calls the department takes are emergency medical calls, which make up around 65-75%.
At the end of the day, Gerrald is excited for this new opportunity to better serve and contribute to the community and the department that he has been dedicated to for over a decade.
“I’ve been a battalion chief here for 11 or 12 years, and I love it; it’s a great job, but I was ready to contribute to the department in a different role,” Gerrald said.
Visual Journalist Chelsea Self can be reached at 970-384-9108 or email@example.com.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Ivan Jackson joined LIFT-UP as its new executive director in August.