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Glenwood can afford one new firefighter

Dennis WebbGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. Glenwood Springs can afford to immediately hire only one of the three firefighters it had hoped to bring on board this year in response to concerns about fire department staffing.That’s the conclusion of city manager Jeff Hecksel, in a memo to City Council this week.Faced with an insurance ratings downgrade over the department’s difficulty in adequately responding to fires, the city last year had outlined a multi-pronged plan to increase staffing. In part, it had hoped to secure a federal grant that would fund most of the cost of the three full-time firefighters and one police officer.However, it learned late in the year that its grant request had been denied.That left Glenwood officials looking at the city’s own budget to see whether it could pay for any of the firefighters or another police officer on its own.”At this time, it does not appear to be financially prudent to add the three firefighter positions or an additional police officer. This may change as the year progresses,” Hecksel wrote to council. “The city is in a good financial position to add one firefighter at this time.”The fire department also receives funding from the Glenwood Springs Rural Fire District, which contracts with the city to provide fire protection to areas outside city limits. “At present, there are adequate funds in the district reserves to fund our portion of the shortfall should the city decide to proceed with the hiring of three new people,” district President Bill Livingston said in a letter last week to the city.However, the city provides about three-quarters of the department’s budget.Early last year, the Insurance Services Office, which rates fire departments for insurers, threatened to downgrade the department from a 4 to a 10, its worst rating. Some local insurers feared the action could have resulted in big increases in premiums for property owners, and in some cases even made it impossible to find insurance.ISO has backed off its threatened ratings downgrade while the city continues working on implementing its response plan.ISO was worried primarily about the department’s inability at the time to respond immediately with at least four firefighters to structure fires.The city’s response capacity improved over the course of last year as it beefed up its part-time and volunteer forces. In a written update to ISO in late December, fire chief Mike Piper provided a record of its structure fire call responses for the last six months.”Be assured, we responded to all these calls with at least four firefighters,” Piper wrote to ISO.The department added 16 new part-time firefighters and eight new volunteers in 2006, bringing its total roster to 54, up 45 percent in a half year.Still, Hecksel wrote to City Council, “Based on the plan submitted to the ISO, it will be important to try to follow through and implement the plan to insure that the city retains a good insurance rating, and more importantly, to insure the department is able to adequately respond to calls for service without compromising the safety of the public or the firefighters.”City officials plan to continue reviewing the city’s financial situation as the year goes on to see if it can hire more public safety staff. Contact Dennis Webb: 384-9119dwebb@postindependent.comPost Independent, Glenwood Springs Colorado CO


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