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Glenwood council: Not so fast on fire authority

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – City Council wants more information on a proposed study to consider merging the city’s fire and emergency services with two western Garfield County fire districts, before agreeing to be part of those discussions.

Council was asked at its Thursday night meeting to appoint someone to sit on a “steering committee” that would look at the feasibility of consolidating services between the Glenwood Springs city fire department and rural fire district with the Burning Mountains and Rifle fire protection districts.

The idea has been in discussion among the fire chiefs from the three service areas for several months. They are now turning to their respective elected representatives to form an official committee to study the details and make a recommendation on forming a regional fire authority.



But Glenwood City Council members made it clear they’re not ready to move just yet, at least not before hearing more about the concept.

“I’m quite uncomfortable with what’s in front of me tonight,” Mayor Bruce Christensen said, adding that even an “automatic aid agreement” signed in September by the three fire districts is concerning.



“It acts as if this thing is already functioning,” he said of the proposed fire authority. “I’m concerned that this agreement commits us to some things we didn’t even know about.”

Added Councilman Matt Steckler, “I’d like to hear why this is a good idea. What are some of the presumptions about the improvements we might see with this?”

Other council members said they also expected a formal presentation of some sort.

But City Manager Jeff Hecksel said all that was being asked of the council was to appoint a city representative to sit on the feasibility committee.

“It sounds like there’s a significant amount of apprehension,” he said. “You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to go down this road.”

Rifle Fire Chief Mike Morgan said in an interview with the Post Independent earlier this week that he and chiefs Mike Piper from Glenwood’s combined city and rural fire department, and Brit McLin from Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, have been discussing the possible creation of a fire authority since spring.

The ultimate goal would be to enhance service levels and increase department efficiencies by looking at more shared aid agreements between the three agencies involving both equipment and personnel, Morgan said. While an all-out consolidation isn’t the primary goal, it could be considered, he said.

Glenwood City Councilman Russ Arensman said it may be something that makes sense.

“I think it’s worth exploring this, cautiously,” he said.

But he, too, said he wants a more formal presentation before making any committee appointments.

Mayor Christensen added that he was also concerned about the proposed make-up of the committee, which would include two members each from the Rifle and Burning Mountain fire districts, plus one from the city and one from the elected Glenwood Rural Fire District board.

“That essentially only gives us one vote,” he said of the city’s interests.

If a consolidation is to be discussed at all, Christensen said it may make more sense for the Glenwood service area to join forces with Carbondale and Basalt instead. Those districts also are discussing a possible consolidation.

Council tabled the matter until a presentation can be made by the fire agencies that are involved.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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