Glenwood Fire Chief Mike Piper resigns
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – Politics surrounding a proposed consolidation of emergency fire and medical services between Glenwood Springs and two other Garfield County fire districts has apparently forced the resignation of Glenwood’s fire chief.
“I think it’s fair to say there were some political issues around that, which the city manager felt was getting in the way,” said Mike Piper, who turned in his resignation on Wednesday after 12 years as chief of the combined Glenwood city fire department and rural fire district.
City Manager Jeff Hecksel is out of town until next week and was unavailable for comment Thursday.
Glenwood Springs Public Works Director Robin Millyard, who is acting city manager in Hecksel’s absence, said he was advised by Hecksel that Piper had resigned. However, Millyard could not speak to the matter.
Piper, reached at his home in New Castle Thursday, said the ongoing consolidation talks played into the decision.
Earlier this year, city council agreed to participate in a feasibility study looking at the possible consolidation of some services between Glenwood Springs and the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District, which serves the New Castle and Silt areas, and the Rifle Fire Protection District.
The concept had been under discussion by the chiefs of the three departments since early last year. The idea is that cost savings and operational efficiencies might be achieved by sharing some services and equipment, and coordinating for training needs.
Piper said he was in favor of the consolidation move, but he did have some concerns.
“The three departments are quite a bit apart in some of the things we do,” he said.
That put him at odds with the other districts, and he might have been viewed as being obstructive, he said.
“There was a lot of stuff being tossed around, but it was clear we weren’t on the same page,” Piper said of his discussions with Hecksel.
“I’ve been trying to work with this for about six weeks, but it got to the point where it was much easier for me to take this option and resign,” he said.
Some city council members were also hesitant when council voted 4-3 in February to allocate the city’s $7,500 share to join the $45,000 feasibility study, saying the outcome seemed “pre-determined.”
Piper agreed that city council and the elected boards of the two fire districts probably should have been in the loop earlier.
“Looking back, this thing kind of came about backwards,” he said. “It had been talked about with the chiefs, but it really needed to go to the elected officials sooner. There was a communication gap, and I found myself trying to do damage control.”
Despite the falling out, Piper said he is proud of some of the department’s accomplishments during his tenure.
“When I got here we had one fire station attached to the [former] city hall,” he said. “We passed a bond issue, and accomplished a lot of things with that.”
The fire department also expanded to include a team of paramedics.
“We did a lot of things to make this a more professional fire department, and I’m proud of that,” he said. “I will miss everyone, and I’ll miss the department.”
Prior to coming to Glenwood Springs, Piper worked as a paramedic instructor at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver. He spent 20 years with the Evergreen volunteer fire department before that.
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The Glenwood Springs-Rifle sports rivalry goes way back for GSHS baseball coach and former Demons multi-sport student-athlete Eric Nieslanik.