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Sunday Profile: A call to service for new Rifle-area fire chief

For Randy Callahan, a career in the fire service was something he found early in life.

Pointing to a framed picture on his office wall of a 1956 Ford/Howe fire engine, Callahan explained that he, his brother and father all worked on the truck when he first began fighting fires in the suburbs of Detroit.

“My dad got me into this profession. He started as a volunteer, as did my brother and I, and we both turned it into a career,” Callahan said. 

“That picture is a reminder of the beginnings.”

Callahan said those beginnings were inspired in part by both the honor and spontaneity found in the firefighting profession.

“You never know when you go out that door if you’re going to be back in five minutes, five hours, or 10 hours,” Callahan said.

“You work until the job’s done, and then you come back.”

After moving from Michigan to Fort Collins in 1994, Callahan went to work for the Poudre Fire Authority.

Callahan spent 23 years in Fort Collins before retiring.

“I thought I was done with the fire service, and that was not the case,” said Callahan who has served 43 years.

With years of service and knowledge Callahan couldn’t stay away from the fire service for long.

“He will forget more than I will ever know. He very much loves to pass along the knowledge he has and it brings a positive attitude to the workplace,” Colorado River Fire Rescue Operations Division Chief Leif Sackett said.

After he retired, he worked on the fire certification board and then with Boulder County Rural Fire before coming to Rifle at the beginning of 2019.

Callahan is now serving as Fire Chief for Colorado River Fire Rescue serving New Castle, Silt and Rifle. He initially came to the role temporarily in January after former Chief Rob Jones stepped down at the end of 2018. He said he’s extended his stay at the request of the board.

“I’ve made an 18 month commitment to stay, to finish up a project we started, we have a lot of good projects going on,” Callahan said.

Callahan oversees 55 career firefighters and around 30 volunteer firefighters covering an 850 square-mile area from Rifle to New Castle.

“Chief Callahan has been a godsend to us, he has taught us how to work well with one another. He has changed our thinking and views. He is so big on training and always giving us a lesson out of what we do and giving us a purpose,” Administrative Director PJ Tillman said.

“It has really made us a strong team.”

Colorado River Fire Rescue has four staffed stations including Station 41 and 43 in Rifle, Station 61 in Silt and Station 64 in New Castle. Colorado Fire also has Interagency Station 42 they share with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management fire agencies. A second station in New Castle, Station 63, is an unstaffed location.

“We are in a time business, our challenge when we are spread out like we are is once that bell rings, the window of opportunity closes on us,” Callahan said of the area CRFR covers.

“That’s why we have to get there, and is why we have the people and stations to do that.”

ITS ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

Callahan said firefighting is about the people, from the firefighters to the citizens. 

“Its all about the folks here in the fire station and in the community, CRFR and its community has a heart and soul, and it’s incredible,” Callahan said.

“I love that.”

Callahan said a great example of the character of the people of Colorado River Fire Rescue occurred recently when the firefighters organized an event to honor the fallen firefighters on Sept. 11. 

He said as many firefighting companies that could came over to Station 41 and made their way up and down the stairs of the training tower in memory of the firefighters.

“It’s only a three-story training tower, but they all took turns climbing those stairs and ringing that bell 343 times,” Callahan said.

“That’s the heart and soul of people, and I love that,”

“When he says he is all about the people of CRFR, he truly means that. He has a passion for the fire service, a passion for people and he has a passion for the citizens of our district,” Sackett said. 

“Its fun to work with him because you see that in how interacts with people and the department.”

SPARE TIME

When he is not working between fire stations or working to educate the community Callahan enjoys time with his wife Patsy and their two dogs.

“I’m blessed, my wife is a giant in my eyes, and she is the nicest, kindest person I’ve ever met,” Callahan said.

Callahan said he is a self-professed winter nut, and he and his wife love the outdoors.

“I love snowshoeing and skiing,” Callahan said.

Callahan mostly skis the backcountry because of the solitude of it, and he can take his dogs.

kmills@postindependent.com

Harrison dominates second-half possession, hangs on for 20-13 win over Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Springs’ defense is surely gassed after that one.

The Demons’ defense was on the field for nearly 18 minutes in the second half Friday night against the Harrison Panthers’ physical offense, but Glenwood’s fast, physical defense held strong throughout the grueling second half.

Unfortunately for Glenwood, the offense couldn’t quite put together that one drive the Demons needed in the second to take the lead or tie it up late, falling to the visiting Panthers 20-13, dropping to 0-2 on the season.

“Honestly, our defense is playing lights out right now; I’m pretty pleased with them,” Pat Engle, Glenwood’s second-year head coach said. “They looked pretty good tonight. I bet they were on the field for 16 or 18 of the 24 minutes in the second half for sure. They certainly played well and gave us multiple chances in the end.”

Heading into the half, Glenwood was in great position to pick up its first win of the season in the home opener as the Demons scored a late touchdown to make it 14-13 on a 4-yard run from senior fullback Elliott Walz. However, the missed extra point loomed large heading into the locker room.

Coming out of the break, Harrison took the opening kickoff and reeled off an 18-play drive that ultimately ended in a turnover on downs at the Glenwood 20-yard line with just 2:43 left in the third quarter.

On that opening drive, a 15-yard pass from junior quarterback Jaseim Mitchell to junior wide receiver Kahli Dotison, and a 13-yard hook-up from Mitchell to Dotison moved the chains, while a personal foul on Glenwood Springs also assisted Harrison in marching down the field.

However, Glenwood’s defense stood tall in a sign of things to come in the second half as Glenwood junior defensive end Camden Hassell sacked Mitchell for an 8-yard loss, forcing Harrison into a 4th and 30 before turning the football over on downs at the 20-yard line.

As the defense stood tall and ultimately got the stops it needed to, Glenwood’s offense couldn’t get out of neutral in the second half.

Following the turnover on downs by Harrison, Glenwood took over at the 20-yard line and proceeded to lose 7 yards on a holding penalty and a sack before junior running back Garrett Dollahan picked up 14 yards on 3rd and 17, giving senior punter Patrick Young room to kick, flipping the field in favor of Glenwood’s defense.

Once again though, Harrison mounted another lengthy, time-consuming drive going 62 yards in 11 plays before senior running back Romeo Wells plowed into the end zone from 5 yards out to make it 20-13 Harrison after a failed 2-point conversion with 8:24 left in the game. Harrison’s scoring drive was aided by a personal foul late hit out of bounds by a Glenwood defender on Mitchell’s 16-yard scramble on 2nd and 15, pushing the Panthers well into Demon territory.

Trailing by one score, the Glenwood offense again couldn’t get going as Dollahan had a tough time handling a high pitch from senior quarterback Dylan Albright, losing 8 yards, ultimately leading to another punt from Young.

At that point in the game, roughly 5:53 remained on the night, but Glenwood’s defense had a few more stops in them.

Glenwood forced a quick 3-and-out, giving the Demons’ offense the ball back, but on 2nd and 9 near midfield after a pass interference call on Harrison, Albright hooked up with sophomore running back Blake Nieslanik in the left flat for a gain of 2 yards. Held up by a defender after the catch, Nieslanik had the ball ripped way from him as the Panthers recovered for what surely should have been the game-deciding play.

Instead, Glenwood’s defense played hero one more time, forcing a fumble by Harrison senior running back Timmy Evans, who was injured on the play, giving the Demons the ball back with just under 2 minutes to play at their own 17-yard line.

Albright kept the potential game-tying drive alive with a 4th and 1 scramble to move the chains, before firing deep to junior tight end Wheatley Nieslanik down the right sideline for 30 yards, giving Glenwood hope on the night.

That would be the last completion on the night though for Albright, as the senior quarterback misfired on his final 4 attempts, giving the Panthers back the ball to kneel out the win.

“With the type of offense that we run, you cannot put the football on the ground; you just can’t,” Engle said after the loss. “You can’t have false starts and holding calls, and things like that. We just have to be a bit more disciplined offensively and not turn the ball over so much, putting us in situations like that at the end of the game.”

Prior to the tough second half, Glenwood’s offense looked solid in the home debut, as Blake Nieslanik took the first play of the game 44 yards down the left sideline, igniting the home crowd. That would be it for fireworks on the first drive though as Nieslanik later fumbled on 3rd and 6 at the Harrison 22, ending the scoring threat for the Demons.

Taking advantage of the early turnover, Harrison marched 80 yards in 8 plays thanks to a 12-yard run by Wells, a 22-yard pass from Mitchell to senior Matthew Robinson, and a 23-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell to junior Seth Fuller, who tapped his toes in the back of the end zone for the game’s opening score.

Trailing 6-0 late in the first quarter, Glenwood’s defense made the first great play of the game as Hassell and senior linebacker Thor Melby combined to sack Mitchell deep in his own territory while popping the football free. Dollahan recovered, setting Glenwood up with a 1st and goal at the Harrison 6-yard line.

Two plays later, Albright snuck in from a yard out, and junior kicker Tyler Thomas drilled the extra point attempt, giving the Demons a 7-6 lead with 11:55 left in the second quarter.

Two possessions later, Glenwood failed to convert on a fake punt, giving Harrison great field position. Mitchell then found Fuller again, this time on a double move down the right sideline for the 18-yard touchdown on 4th and 10. Mitchell then converted the 2-point conversion, giving the Panthers a 14-7 lead with just under 6 minutes left in the first half.

That’s when Walz scored to make it 14-13 at the half, setting up the physical second half.

In the loss, Blake Nieslanik rushed for 60 yards on 9 carries and added 2 catches for 41 yards, while Dollahan gained 34 yards on 7 carries. Walz added 22 yards and a touchdown on the ground on 4 carries. Albright completed 5-of-13 passes for 82 yards. The senior also added 15 yards on the ground and a touchdown.

Harrison’s Wells rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Mitchell completed 8-of-15 passes for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns, both to Fuller on the night.

Glenwood Springs (0-2) travels to Conifer next Friday for a matchup with the Lobos at 7 p.m.

“This is all a process; we’re not going to duck anyone,” Engle said. “We’re playing much better football early in the season right now; the boys have put in a ton of work. Unfortunately, we’re just not getting the return right now. You just have to keep working though; you can’t lose faith in what we’re doing. Their time’s coming.”

jcarney@postindependent.com

Mulhall column: Man who catch fly with chopstick…

My son and his girlfriend recently vacationed in Tokyo. On their return, my son declared, “There’s a glimmering jewel of Japanese culture America should adopt.”

“Oh boy,” I thought, strapping in for a grandiose Gen Z take on the dismal state of America.

Even as I braced for some hefty proposition about government, climate, or maybe even nuclear power, I realized the discourtesy of disarming his premise before actually hearing it. So, I quickly asked myself, which Japanese developments have improved the lot of human existence the world over?

Several came to mind, including the microprocessor, fiber optics and the Toyota Camry.

The more I thought about it the longer the list grew, and soon I had grown genuinely curious to know what my son found so great.

“Japanese toilets are awesome,” he finally began. “They wash your backside.”

“You mean, they have bidets?”

“Not bidets. You just push a button and a wand comes out and spritzes you clean right where you sit. It’s all built in.”

He paused, perhaps waiting for approval.

“They play sounds, too,” he continued. “You know, to mask your ‘noises.’”

“What kinds of sounds,” I asked.

“Well, there’s a jungle track with bongo drums and screeching monkeys that does a fantastic job.”

As I contemplated what a blessing this would be to my wife’s ears, I couldn’t help but wonder what might go wrong with a wand that spray-washes your nether region.

“Doesn’t it hose down the old wedding tackle?”

“Not at all. It has two spray settings that are anatomically tailored and remarkably accurate. Toilet paper is strictly for dabbing off excess moisture.”

“It’s Japan,” I said. “How’d you pick the right squirt if you don’t know Kanji?”

“The control panel has gender-specific Emojis,” he explained. “It’s really quite obvious.”

I envisioned this pair of Emojis, waving from the cab of a speeding locomotive as it smashes into a mountain of post-modernist non-binary pronouns.

“That might not go over too well here in America anymore,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” he said, “there could be a real market for it. I mean, when did Glenwood Springs get its first toilet? Less than 150 years ago? If you think about it, American toilet technology hasn’t really progressed much beyond the outhouse.”

“That’s not completely accurate, son,” I said. “America has applied a good bit of intellectual firepower to toilets — even in the time I’ve been alive.”

“Oh yea? Like what?”

“Well, when I was a kid, American toilets flushed a good three gallons of water. As you might imagine, they could move some mass. Then, a few years before you were born, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, which mandated among other things that all new toilets get the job done on a mere 1.6 gallons per flush. Some toilets now work on as little as 1 gallon.”

“Really?”

“Yep. It was an interesting time of change in America, too. While bowl manufacturers ran ads demonstrating how many golf balls their water efficient toilets could swallow, plunger sales skyrocketed. To help the cause, a rock star named Sheryl Crow advised Americans to adopt a one-toilet-paper-square per restroom visit policy.”

“Well, that could be a problem.”

“Not really,” I said. “No one ever tried her advice more than once.”

“No, I mean Japanese toilets could violate the Energy Policy Act.”

And with those words I saw the entrepreneurial zeal in my son’s eyes flicker and trail off like a wisp of sandalwood incense.

After a long, pensive pause, he spoke up again.

“Too bad, you know? Japanese toilets might improve American hygiene.”

I shrugged, for there really wasn’t anything else to say, and after another short silence, my son took the conversation elsewhere.

Later that day, as I reflected on my son’s disappointment, I thought I heard the voice of Pat Morita whisper, “Man who catch fly with chopstick probably use American toilet.”

Mitch Mulhall is a husband, father and longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent and at postindependent.com.

27th Street Bridge set to close from Thursday through Monday

The structurally deficient and functionally obsolete 27th Street Bridge in Glenwood Springs has officially reached the end of its life cycle.

“It is going to be a big milestone for the project and the community,” said Bryana Starbuck, 27th Street Bridge Project public information manager.

CLOSURE SCHEDULE

Beginning 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, and lasting through 6 a.m. Monday, Sept. 16, the 27th Street Bridge, South Grand Avenue intersection and Atkinson Trail will close to vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Additionally, portions of the Roaring Fork River near the construction site will also shut down to river users.

During the 84-hour closure crews will work around the clock to deconstruct the existing bridge in order to slide the newly built one into place.

DETOURS

“The main detours we are talking about are for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists, and river users,” Starbuck said.

Eighth Street will serve as the designated detour route for motorists needing to cross the Roaring Fork River whereas pedestrians and cyclists should use the Old Cardiff or 14th Street bridges.

Roaring Fork River users must eddy-out at or before Three Mile Creek or put in farther downstream from the 27th Street Bridge, Starbuck explained.

According to Lt. John Hassell, no significant traffic accidents had occurred on the 27th Street Bridge or South Grand Avenue intersection in the last few months. Additionally, Hassell said that the Glenwood Springs Police Department would station an officer Friday morning at Eighth Street and Midland Avenue to assist motorists through the detour route.

SPECTATORS STAY AWAY

The bridge slide, which will occur during the 84-hour closure, has garnered quite a bit of interest among the community. However, project officials have warned the public to obey all closures and to avoid attempting to see the slide due to safety concerns.

“I know people are pretty excited to see the slide but it is going to be pretty boring,” said Jessica Bowser, assistant city engineer.

According to Bowser, the new traffic bridge will slide into place at a rate of approximately 6 inches an hour.

“The actual slide will take almost a whole day I believe,” Bowser said.

MONDAY MORNING

Should all go according to plan, when the 27th Street Bridge does reopen Monday morning its neighboring pedestrian bridge will remain closed for at least a few more weeks, Starbuck explained.

However, cyclists and pedestrians may utilize the newly slid into place traffic bridge, too — at least until the new pedestrian bridge does open.

“We will just create a pathway on the new traffic bridge for folks to be able to get across on the side of the bridge,” Starbuck said. “It will look similar to what is out there now.”

NEXT STEPS

Although the bridge slide marks a milestone in the 27th Street Bridge Project, it does not mark the end of the project.

“There is still a lot of work to be done,” Bowser said. “We still have a roundabout to construct. We still have landscaping and masonry and the final connections for the utilities to make.”

The entire 27th Street Bridge Project has an anticipated completion date of December 2019.

STAY IN THE KNOW

For the most up-to-date project information residents may sign up for ConeZone email updates by contacting the project team at 27thStreetBridge@gmail.com or by calling or texting (970) 618-5379.

mabennett@postindependent.com