Craig firefighter says convention showed concern over resources

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Byron Willems, a member of the Craig Fire Department, attended a state fire convention in Estes Park last week.

He said firefighters from everywhere in the state are concerned.

"Every department I talked to was really worried," Willems said. "Everyone is running more calls this year than ever before. In Craig we're going to be at 100 calls by the end of June. That's the most ever in a six month period."

The convention Willems attended was the 85th annual Colorado State Firefighters Association convention, at which he was named the association president for the next year.

Willems said he has been a member of the organization for six years.

Last week's convention had 300 delegates from about 135 volunteer and paid Colorado fire departments.

The association follows any legislation that might affect firefighting, sets ups firefighting classes across the state and monitors any problems that might occur regarding employee pension plans, Willems said.

"We particularly keep an eye on the volunteer sector," he said.

Willems said many departments expressed concerns about lack of funding, particularly in a year in which Colorado is in its worst drought ever and experiencing its worst wildfire season ever.

No fire department in the state has the funding it needs, making them short of supplies, equipment and manpower that will be needed to fight the high number of fires that will likely continue to break out this summer, he said.

Willems said local voters'

rejection of a mill levy increase

in May that would have increased the

fire department's annual budget

by more than $500,000 last spring was an example of a statewide attitude toward funding for fire departments.

"It's the same for all departments," he said.

"We're all shorthanded and don't have enough money because the general public doesn't want to give us any. But they sure don't want us not to be there when a fire breaks."

After the the mill levy proposal was defeated, Tommy Cotton, Craig Rural Fire Protection District board president, said if the increase were brought back before voters in 2004, "I assure you it will be discussed many times over internally and publicly, it will be revised to reflect real figures and not crystal ball figures, and it will be made clearly justifiable to all residents."

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