Craig Fire/Rescue crews prepare to pull in to the fire station after evening training Thursday. The Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board is investigating construction of a second fire station south of The Memorial Hospital. Early plans for the station include four bays for vehicles, living quarters for firemen, a five-story training tower, a separate building for live fire exercises and an education room containing stadium-style seating.

Photo by Brian Smith

Craig Fire/Rescue crews prepare to pull in to the fire station after evening training Thursday. The Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board is investigating construction of a second fire station south of The Memorial Hospital. Early plans for the station include four bays for vehicles, living quarters for firemen, a five-story training tower, a separate building for live fire exercises and an education room containing stadium-style seating.

The case for station no. 2 in Craig

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Craig Fire/Rescue fire fighters change out of their gear at the fire station after evening training Thursday. Fire chief Bill Johnston said there are several reasons why the department needs a second station — chief among them is to cover what he thinks is a growing and expanding fire district. Some people have questioned the need for a second station or if such a proposal — specifically parts that include a training tower and live fire training building — fit what the fire department outlined in its 2006 mill levy campaign, Johnston said.

Budget

Budget summary for Craig Rural Fire Protection District:

• 2006

— Revenue: $676,516

— Expenses: $529,311

— Surplus: $147,205

• 2007 (start of mill levy collection)

— Revenue: $1,384,944.41

— Expenses: $955,032.58

— Surplus: $429,911.83

• 2008

— Revenue: $1,271,654.37

— Expenses: $1,189,806.17

— Surplus: $81,848.20

• 2009

— Revenue: $1,054,602.77

— Expenses: $1,117,457.16

— Deficit: $62,854.39

• 2010

— Revenue: $1,050,874.64

— Expenses: $504,218.43

— Surplus: $546,656.21

• 2011 (projected)

— Revenue: $1,010,799

— Expenses: $566,700.05

— Surplus: $444,098.95

• 2006 to 2010 surplus — $1,142,766.85

• 2006 to 2011 projected surplus — $1,586,865.80

Service Calls

Number of calls for service:

• 2005 — 294

• 2006 — 318

• 2007 — 295

• 2008 — 317

• 2009 — 371

• 2010 — 333

— According to Craig Fire/Rescue staff, half of the calls for service are usually related to emergency medical service and half to fire calls.

Population changes

Craig population:

• 2000 — 9,189

• 2010 — 9,464

— Statistics indicate a growth of 275 people or 2.99 percent in Craig’s population in 10 years.

Moffat County population:

• 2000 — 13,184

• 2010 — 13,795

— Statistics indicate a growth of 611 people, or 4.63 percent in Moffat County’s population in 10 years.

— Not all of Moffat County is included in the Craig Rural Fire Protection District.

Colorado population:

• 2000 — 4.3 million

• 2010 — 5 million

— Statistics indicate a growth of 16.9 percent in 10 years.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Chris Nichols, a Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board member, was recently posed a question.

“Somebody once said, ‘We live in a one-horse town (so) why do we need two fire stations?’” he said.

Nichols, the former chief of Craig Fire/Rescue, had a response.

“I’m sorry that person doesn’t have a better opinion of his town and where he’d like to see his town be and grow,” he said Wednesday. “But, we project this moving forward.”

Recently, the fire board began exploring the construction of a second station for the fire department.

Nichols said if the idea is feasible and the fire department has the funding — much of which could come from a voter-approved 2006 mill levy increase — then the fire department will likely move forward with the project.

He said there are several reasons for the department’s need for a second station — chief among them was to cover what he thinks is a growing and expanding fire district.

However, there are “naysayers,” Fire Chief Bill Johnston said, who question the need for a second station or if such a proposal — which could include a training tower and live fire training building — fits what the fire department outlined in its 2006 mill levy campaign.

Such notions are “premature,” he said, adding the fire department is “just looking into it.”

“The point is that this has been blown out of proportions for where we are in the project,” Johnston said. “Because we are straight forward and honest, we gave more information and people ran with the information instead of just sitting back and trusting us.”

Origins and ideas

The idea for a second station surfaced publicly in late January during a presentation to The Memorial Hospital Board.

The land on which the proposed second station would be built is located directly south of hospital property.

Early plans for the station include four bays for vehicles, living quarters for firefighters, a five-story training tower, a separate building for live fire exercises and an education room containing stadium-style seating.

Johnston said those items are things he would like, but the district might not be able to afford as part of the initial project.

“When we talk about fire behavior, water supplies and live fires, it would be nice to walk down a pathway and there’s live fire training,” Johnston said.

The live fire building would allow the department to train in a realistic manner, Johnston said, rather than the current practice of finding a traffic cone representing fire in a smoky building.

The tower would be used for height-related training, including work on ladders, stairs and ropes, but would not be used in a burn.

Johnston said both Rifle and Hayden have training centers. However, the department can’t fully utilize them because of distance and sends only a handful of firefighters to be trained at once.

“We are a small enough fire department that all that I can muster goes on a structure fire,” he said. “So, we play together, we need to train together. I don’t think the fire district taxpayers would appreciate me taking their entire fire department to Hayden, and even worse, Rifle.”

An initial news release from the fire board indicated groundbreaking for the project would take place in late spring or early summer.

Fire board officials hired project manager Todd Ficken, of F&D International, to oversee the Station No. 2 project and have authorized him to solicit proposals for geotechnical investigation and first-phase environmental site assessment.

Officials also authorized the project manager to start drafting requests for proposals for design work — the first step in a design-bid-build approach — that will need approval before it is sent out.

Since June 2010, the project manager has billed the department twice for a total of $11,106.84.

Johnston said the department is “not wasting any money” on research into the project, even if isn’t feasible.

“If we decide we cannot afford this, don’t want to do it, doesn’t sound right, all the studies — the soil studies, the structural studies, the environmental studies — all this can go onto a shelf and they are good to go,” he said.

Johnston said the district has “no idea” of the cost of building Station No. 2 because of the number of “variables.”

Nichols said there is about $1.14 million saved since 2006 between two district funds that would be used to fund Station No. 2, in addition to revenues from this year and minus $250,000 that would need to remain for emergencies.

“(But,) the board has not made a decision on that, whatsoever,” he said.

‘Can’t wait until the need is here’

Talks of building Station No. 2 were sparked by an offer from Colorado Northwestern Community College to donate the property to the fire district, which is “ready to go” with infrastructure, Johnston said.

CNCC contends a second station would be a “good fit” with the rest of area’s development, Nichols said.

“So, why wouldn’t we be prudent and think about taxpayer money and think about, ‘Well, we know that someday we are going to need a second station?’” Johnston said. “We know that.”

Johnston said there is a “rule of thumb” that districts should have one fire station for every 10,000 people.

Nichols estimated the fire district — which covers Craig and surrounding areas — has about 12,000 people in it.

“It is not like you wait until 20,000 to build the second one,” he said.

“When you consider that you need a second station, if I say to Chris, ‘Chris I need a second station,’ I’m too late,” Johnston said.

Johnston added, “You can’t wait until the need is here — that is poor planning.”

“The chief did make a good point there — when do we build this station?” Nichols said. “Ten years from now when it is going to cost us twice as much money? We are projecting into the future — right now construction costs are down (and) we have the opportunity of free ground that may or may not be there 10 years down the road.”

Nichols said the location also fits with the westward expansion of Craig.

“If the town continues to grow west, down the road, we want to be in the center of that new growth again because that is how we service the community,” he said.

Building such a second station on a location such as the land the fire district owns on Industrial Avenue behind Kmart “would be a waste of Station 2,” Nichols said.

“It wouldn’t increase our coverage area more than where we are from downtown,” he said.

Johnston said the eventual need of a full-time fire department — as opposed to its current part-time, paid-per-call staff — plays another factor in the decision.

“It is a known fact throughout America that the old volunteer fire departments are going away — people aren’t volunteering in even the part-time aspects,” he said. “People only want one job then they want to recreate or be with their families … but they certainly don’t want a second job.”

Johnston said he expects the fire department to hire a full-time staff in the next two to five years.

“So, it is a fight all the time to keep our numbers up to where we can respond to calls,” he said. “Eventually, we are not going to be able to.”

Craig Fire/Rescue has been working for several years to get a full staff of 35 firefighters, but currently has 29.

The staff is broken into seven officers, 20 firefighters and two probationary firefighters who started training in January.

The two recruits started the annual fire academy as part of a class of three. Typically, fire officials have said, the academy has a 50-percent graduation rate.

Fire officials have interest from five new applicants, but the 2011 class size is down from previous years, including the 2010 class, which had six recruits, four of which made it through the training to become firefighters.

‘Another piece of equipment for serving’

Voters passed the 2006 mill levy increase by a vote of 2,614 to 1,192. It was the fire department’s third attempt at securing more funding in five years.

Nichols said the mill levy has paid for four fire engines, replacement of breathing apparatuses and a compressor.

Part of the language of the 2006 ballot question directs “all such tax revenue to be credited to the district’s general fund for operational expenses, including the acquisition and maintenance of firefighting equipment.”

In a summary of written comments mailed to voters before the election, the fire department wrote it was requesting the mill levy increase for “the repair, replacement and maintenance of capital equipment including trucks, compressor and self-contained breathing apparatus.”

Johnston said, however, the ballot “doesn’t really tell the story” of what was said in public meetings hosted by the fire district to promote plans for the increase in revenue.

Johnston said the department was “very forthright” in discussions of what the money could be used for, but said a “Station 2” was never mentioned.

“No, we never named it,” he said. “We talked about facilities. It was in general terms. We talked about addition or the possibility of another facility, and it was cursory.

“We didn’t stay on the subject very long, but we were trying to promote the idea that we didn’t have a crystal ball.”

Johnston said a 2002 mill levy didn’t pass because the funding would have been allocated to build only a training center.

“They didn’t think we needed a training center,” he said. “I heard this. We heard it over and over again.”

Nichols said the “general theme” among voters who turned down a mill levy proposal in 2004 was that “you are just going to use this for a training center.”

“If we were the scammer dogs these few people think we are, what we would have said is, ‘We’re building Station 2. Period,’” Johnston said. “Do you think we didn’t know if we used the ‘t-word’ (training), if we used the ‘c-word’ (center) anywhere, it’s going to raise some antennas because the community said they don’t want a training center?

“But we’re being forthright. The board asked me what I’d like to see. I told them what I’d like to see. I don’t think I’m going to get it.”

Johnston said every fire department he’s “ever visited” had one station deemed a “training station” with “training props” and a training tower.

“It’s still a fire station, but it has the training tower and somewhere there’s a live fire training building, so that’s why I said I’d like to see that stuff,” he said.

However, Johnston noted what he wanted might not be affordable.

“We might end up with a bare-bones Station 2 with quarters for future full-time firefighters not even finished,” he said.

Both Nichols and Johnston said if the mill levy question was put to voters again with the proposal for a second station as it stands today, voters would still approve it.

“A station is another piece of equipment for serving the general public,” Nichols said.

Nichols said it all boils down to the fire district “planning for the future.”

“We’re providing what this fire department needs to continue to grow and continuing to provide outstanding service to this community, and we’re doing it all within the voter-approved revenues that we’ve been given,” Nichols said. “If somebody thinks we’re being dishonest, tell them to run for the board in two years or come to a board meeting.

“The general public has elected this board of directors to be in control of this (pot) of money, and they authorize this board of directors to use that in the best way that we see to provide fire protection and emergency services to this community.

“This board of directors is saying for the future, this is our direction.”

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Comments

jt2009 3 years, 8 months ago

I personally say I would prefer see the FD get a training facility and be able to properly execute their training in the field. Let me ask if you were in a burning building and trapped wouldn't you want to have the confidence that the firefighters could safely rescue you. Now I'm not saying that they're not properly trained but knowing that they are able to get higher quality training makes me feel better if they ever have to come rescue me or my family. I know that there are residents think that there are better things we can do with our tax money, but honestly there will always be someone who wants our tax money for their own reasons, so why not spend on the FD that is constantly giving back to our community. Just my own personal thoughts on the subject, everyone is entitled to their opinions and I hope that I am not one of the commenters that get completely lambasted for stating my opinions. A simple I agree because... or I disagree because... would be nice to see for once as opposed to lowering ourselves to the high school or even middle school mentality level and picking apart every little part of persons comment that we don't like by insulting someone’s intelligence or trying to make them feel small for having an opinion different than our own.

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xrsareus 3 years, 8 months ago

One item is missing from the story. This is the "rumor" of the fire district taking over the ambulance. If the fire district does. Call volume would probably double and the firefighters we have now would be putting a strain on the full time jobs they have now unless they have very understanding employers. The ambulance now is called to any part of the county it is needed not just in the fire district. That might be a reason for full time firefighters. If the "rumor" is true, station 2 is the place to have the ambulances parked, next to the hospital. Unless the ambulance service is a money losing department for the hospital or the hospital thinks the fire department can do a better job with the medical calls. Why would they want to turn the ambulance over to the fire department? Since taxpayer's in the district are not charged for calls for fire department service now, would they be charged if the fire department takes over the ambulance and a person in the district needs an ambulance? We need more information of this "rumor" from the hospital and fire boards. Is this part of the "planning for the future"?

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Sam Relaford 3 years, 8 months ago

I am going to say something i never thought I would say. I agree we do need a 2nd firehouse in Craig. Craig is always growing, and most of the growth is toward the west. I feel the advantages of a fire house in the Ridgeview area would have some great benefits for the people who live in the area. Not only in fire and ambulance protection, but also in our home owner insurance rates. Having lived west of Craig as a child, I have seen first hand several homes burn to the ground because the fire department simply could not get there fast enough. I say let them build a fire house to place a couple trucks and an ambulance out there. Then in the future expand to include a training facility then later a "dorm" or whatever they call it. I hope it happens soon.

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saunders 3 years, 8 months ago

@ranger I am sorry you are letting your personal feelings for one individual sway your opinions but it is clearer now where you motives lie.

I have and will continue to support the second station.

I would also like to point out that Craig Fire doesn't just respond to residential or commercial emergencies. Industrial response is something Craig Fire needs to be extremely well trained in and it takes just a glance to the southern horizon to understand why. Craig Station is the single largest contributor to the fire district and poses the greatest risk potential. Craig Fire is tasked with fire suppression, confined space rescue, technical rescue and assisting with Hazmat response. With that in mind I can easily see the need for a 5 story training tower as the plant is much larger than the proposed 5 story tower. Not everything is about the residential home owner and that the district and the board have a responsibility to provide training for industrial events.

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Jon Pfeifer 3 years, 8 months ago

So in the case for a second station the Chief concedes that there is no present need for a second fire station. "You can't wait until the need is here." That's right, that is the fire chief admitting that presently there is no need for a second fire station. There might possibly, someday, in the unforseeable future be a need for one sometime.

This logic is incredibly flawed. By this same logic we should build a new hospital. I know, I know, we just built one and it is sufficient for our needs. But we can't just sit around and wait until there is actually a need. Craig might grow someday. So we should build a new hospital now.

This line of reasoning also ignores the fact that Moffat County is not growing and has not been growing for many years. This supposed "growth" in the west of town is actually replacing out-of-date facilities, like the old hospital and the old campus of CNCC. I seriously doubt we are going to wake up some day and be shocked that the town has suddenly grown beyond the abilities of one fire station. We can, in fact, wait until the need is here.

Clearly, voters have expressed their desire that a training facility not be constructed. That's what voters mean when they disapprove a mill levy designed to build such a structure. Hayden is not too far to go. If we need a live fire building, then maybe the project should look like a live fire training building and a classroom, in partnership with CNCC. A second fire station and certainly living quarters for our volunteer firefighters are absurd because they are not needed. You don't build something based on a huge change that will be vehemently resisted (such as switching from volunteer part-time to full-time, paid firefighters with benefits) without actually making that change first. The money in the fund should be returned to voters. I won't hold my breath though.

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Sam Relaford 3 years, 8 months ago

It shouldn't matter if the population is increasing or just relocation across town. The only thing that matters is that when the fire department is needed that they are able to respond quickly. And yes, Ranger520, If I lived in that area I would sleep better if I knew that should I need them they are only minutes away. Not 1/2 an hour or more. Waiting until something happens to decide to do something is simply putting your seatbelt on in the middle of a crash. Its too late! I dont really think living quarters is warranted. This is still a smaller town where most fire fighters live within a few minutes of the station now. But a place to keep a couple trucks and an ambulance really makes sence. At least to me it does. If I read the story correctly there is a surplus of 1.5 million dollars available. Thats alot of money to build a big garage.

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