Emergency services call volumes increase throughout Garfield County | PostIndependent.com

Emergency services call volumes increase throughout Garfield County

Glenwood Springs Fire Department offers support for Colorado River Fire Rescue tax proposal

Firefighters with the Glenwood Springs Fire Department check out an engine similar to ones that could replace their 20-year-old engines purchased shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

In the past 10 years, call volumes for the Glenwood Springs Fire Department has increased by more than 50% while staffing has risen just 10%, GSFD Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said.

“We’ll easily top 2,400 calls by the end of the year,” Tillotson said, explaining the department responded to about 2,300 calls between September 2020 and September 2021. “We average about 200 calls a month.”

From September 2011 to September 2012, GSFD responded to about 1,600 calls, which include requests for emergency services, fire calls, vehicle collisions and service calls, such as elevator rescues, fire alarms and hazardous materials spills.

Further west in Garfield County, Colorado River Fire Rescue is experiencing similar call volume trends, CRFR Fire Chief Leif Sackett said.

The CRFR fire district experienced a 6% increase in call volume when comparing January 2020 through August 2020 to January 2021 through August 2021, Sackett said.

Across the board, emergency service calls accounted for the bulk of the firefighting agencies call volumes.

Sacket said EMS calls increased nearly 12% in the same time frame.

“It’s very much in line with our EMS call volume trends over the past five years,” he said.

In Glenwood, EMS calls account for about 65% of the department’s total call volume, and Tillotson said call volume trends aren’t likely to flatten anytime soon.

Glenwood staffing

Before the 21st century, GSFD relied heavily on volunteer firefighters and emergency responders, but nowadays, the department is a mix of full-time and part-time employees, Tillotson said.

“We have one volunteer left,” he said, explaining GSFD stopped recruiting volunteers in the early 2000s. “The training requirements are becoming so extensive that they are extremely difficult for volunteers to meet.”

GSFD employs 27 full-time personnel, including administrative positions. While the department has a goal of staffing 20 part-time personnel, it currently employs 12, he said.

In addition to fighting fires — both structure and wildland — GSFD is the area’s primary emergency medical transport service; however, the department does not handle hospital-to-hospital transfers.

“Our coverage area goes from the Hanging Lake tunnel on Interstate 70 out to mile marker No. 108, near New Creation Church,” Tillotson said. “We don’t go very far north of the Glenwood Caverns, but on the south side, we go all the way to Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort.”

Up to 24% of the department’s overall call volume consists of requests outside Glenwood Springs city limits, he said.

Firefighting in the valley is a community effort. On top of their own calls, Glenwood Springs’ firefighters comply with mutual aid agreements from surrounding fire districts by responding to calls throughout the valley.

Strength in unity

GSFD relies on firefighters from fire districts, including Rifle, Basalt, Gypsum and Carbondale, to help with calls, such as the structure fire Sept. 18 at the eastern edge of Glenwood Springs along Lincoln Avenue

“Regionwide, I think everyone is facing the same problems,” Tillotson said. “We lend aid almost as much as we receive.”

Meeting growing demand requires personnel, training and additional funds, none of which are easy to come by.

“In the long term, we need to increase staffing, but that takes time and money,” Tillotson said. “Our budget, unfortunately, isn’t going up at the same pace of our calls.”

To fill the gaps, firefighting agencies in the valley pool their support for each others’ funding requests, he said.

CRFR is seeking voter approval in November of a mill levy that could be phased in over multiple years. Rather than increasing the taxpayers’ property rates by 6 mills in the first year, a request which was denied by area voters in 2020, CRFR’s new proposal calls for a rate increase of 3 mills in 2022, an additional 2 mills in 2024, and up to an additional 1.75 mills in 2026, totalling 6.75 mills.

“It’s important that we all stay as strong as our budgets will allow us to,” Tillotson said. “Their strength ultimately ties into our strength, and that goes both ways.”

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

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