Rescuing Glenwood FD from staff shortage
Glenwood Springs’ Fire Department faces an emergency situation, in more ways than one.The city is facing the possibility of a sharp downgrading in the rating it receives from the Insurance Services Offices, or ISO. The possible drop from an impressive 4 rating to a dismal 10, the worst that ISO gives, means insurance premiums could double for homeowners within the city and surrounding Glenwood Springs Fire Protection District.Of even greater concern is the reason behind ISO’s threatened downgrade. In a nutshell, the city is unable to average an initial response of at least four firefighters to a fire. This means it can’t meet the standard firefighting “two-in, two-out” rule, which holds that the minimum safe response to a fire requires two firefighters to fight it from outside a building, and two to go inside.The urgency of the situation was revealed during a recent downtown fire, when the city was able to muster up the bare minimum of four firefighters to fight it. A downtown employee’s early report of the fire, combined with the Glenwood crew’s quick response and the assistance of Carbondale firefighters, kept the fire contained to one building. But it threatened to spread to an entire block, and raised the question about the city’s ability to respond with adequate manpower.City officials are looking into ISO’s evaluation of the fire department and questioning possible discrepancies. They contend ISO is ignoring an overall score under which the department should continue to be rated a 4.To us, ISO’s explanation is pretty clear. Some requirements are so important they must be considered separately from the overall score. If the department can’t get enough people fast enough to fight a fire, not too much else that it is able to do matters all that much.The manpower shortage also means the department isn’t able to adequately staff its three departments to keep them all open, all the time. That means its relatively new facility up Four Mile Road, which cost nearly $1 million to build, often has to sit empty.City officials plan to meet Monday with the board of the Glenwood fire district, a surrounding region that the Glenwood fire department also serves under a formal agreement. Staffing issues will be a central topic off their discussion.A key part of that discussion will be the department’s diminishing use of volunteer help over the years. The city has moved in recent years toward using mostly paid, full-time staff, in part due to the difficulties of recruiting, training and relying on volunteers in a valley in which people are increasingly busy and unable to chip in the way they once did.This concern is valid, and shared by other area departments. But at the same time, those departments have opted to maintain more of a mix of paid and volunteer staffing. They simply don’t have the budgets to do away with volunteer help, and also have found that despite the challenges of having a volunteer contingent, the rewards continue to be worth it.Glenwood Springs isn’t a big city, and doesn’t have a big-city budget. Volunteers once served the department well and can continue to make a significant contribution to the department being able to adequately respond when emergencies arise. It’s time the role of the volunteer be restored to the place of importance it once had within the department.
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