Fire department’s policies need to change |

Fire department’s policies need to change

It’s not often that a train smashes a truck and everyone walks away with nary a scratch.

But shortly after noon on Saturday, March 25, that’s what happened. A fire truck from the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District driven by volunteer firefighter Austin Coryell with three passengers aboard, including a 3-year-old boy, was rammed by a freight train.

Unimaginable luck. One smashed truck and four shaken but unscathed people inside.

Afterwards, the focus quickly shifted from luck to a fast track of scrutiny, criticism and questions.

Coryell, 20, was issued a careless driving citation by the Colorado State Patrol, but Burning Mountains Fire Chief Brit McLin refused to hand out any disciplinary action to his young volunteer.

Maybe disciplinary action should have been taken, but surviving a harrowing accident like that should serve as an unforgettable lesson.

What needs to be seriously questioned is the fire district’s policy on giving rides to community members and the access volunteer firefighters have to the equipment during non-emergency situations.

McLin’s handling of the accident and his seemingly nonchalant attitude concerning the loss of a $260,000 piece of equipment is also disturbing.

It’s time to move past the details associated with the accident and be thankful that the situation can be scrutinized without death being part of the discussion.

Coryell said he never saw the train. Mistakes were made. Trains don’t ram vehicles without mistakes being made. Coryell was cited for the accident, and it’s time to shift the focus to the future.

McLin has elicited the help of the Aspen Fire Department to conduct an independent investigation of the accident and other circumstances.

McLin has also said that the fire district will be re-evaluating its policy.

Two good decisions.

According to McLin, Coryell had permission to use the truck. The veteran chief also said that rides are often arranged for community members since the community helped pay for the vehicles.

The policy of the fire district must change. This was a very rare accident, but all we have to ask is, “What could have happened?”

We could have been looking at four funerals.

There are plenty of ways to provide community outreach. That means structured, supervised community events handled in a controlled environment.

Children and their love of firefighters and fire trucks will never vanish. Providing youngsters the opportunity to take a ride in a fire truck, blow the siren, and play with the lights should not be eliminated ” especially in small towns. But a safe environment is mandatory. If the truck takes to the highway and a child is inside, child seats are not only necessary, they are the law.

Firefighters need training and driving is part of that. Structured training should be part of the policy, and it should be conducted without members of the community on board.

McLin said that “no rules were broken.” Maybe not, but all that means is the rules must change.

These fire trucks were purchased to fight fires and provide rescue services when called upon. Community outreach takes a backseat to the real needs of the equipment.

McLin said that the loss of the truck won’t affect their ability to provide service to the fire district, which includes more than 440 square miles between Silt and New Castle. He was also quoted as saying, “It’s not a critical piece of equipment.”

At $260,000, we beg to differ.

March 25 was a truly lucky day. A freight train crashed into a fire truck, and everyone survived.

Let’s not waste that great fortune by not learning from it and instituting change. When the Aspen Fire Department investigation is complete, Burning Mountains Fire Protection District should use the findings to shape its future; however, Burning Mountains should hold its own feet to the fire and give itself a serious evaluation.

Learn from this accident. Change the policy and create an unyielding document that keeps the community safe and provides proper training situations for your volunteers.

Lady Luck was smiling on one volunteer firefighter and three passengers, and now Father Time will determine if Burning Mountains Fire Protection District will learn from this mishap that had a miraculous outcome.

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