A proposed training facility was a primary topic Thursday at the monthly meeting of the Craig Rural Fire Protection District Board. Since discussing construction of a new training tower and fire simulator on property near The Memorial Hospital and Colorado Northwestern Community College at its March meeting, the board offered residents an opportunity to voice their opinions on the plan. After a video and PowerPoint presentation by board president Byron Willems about the benefits of having such a structure in the area and the breakdown of safety measures involved, the floor opened to public comment. The first to speak was Craig resident Bruce Timberg, who accused board members of “lies and deceit” regarding the training facility. Timberg said he was not arguing for or against the idea of a training location, but he questioned the history of the funding for the estimated $1.5 million project. Specifically, he believes funds received from a 2006 mill levy approved by local voters are being misappropriated to build a structure similar to the one rejected by voters in 2002. Willems quoted the 2006 ballot, pointing out that money from the mill levy was to be used for, among other things, “operating expenses.” Timberg said he did not believe a training facility fell in this category. “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” Willems said. Resident Susan Chenoweth spoke next in support of the training tower plan, stating how it would be an asset to the area. “This mill levy changed my taxes less than $40 a year,” she said. “For $40 a year, I think that’s pretty damn good insurance. If my house catches on fire, I want the best-trained person to come out there and put it out. I want that person to be safe and to be able to go home to his wife and kids.” Chenoweth also motioned to members of the Craig Fire/Rescue team in the audience and thanked them for volunteering. “I know how many Christmases have been spent away from your families putting out somebody else’s fire,” she said. Other supporters of the project included Jayne Morley, of Craig, and Jimmy Rossi, of Hayden. Besides the funding, other aspects of the building were brought up by community members, such as the safety of the location with other buildings in the vicinity. The topics of acceptable burning materials and ventilation, part of Willems’ initial presentation, were reintroduced by Jennifer Riley, who stated she was at the meeting as a Craig resident and not a representative of The Memorial Hospital, where she's chief of organizational excellence. The hospital board recently supported the facility by unanimous vote, under the condition the fire board handle any potential costs caused by smoke from the fire simulator. “When I first saw that presentation a month ago, one thing that helped me was you mentioned you’re not going to be burning something every day, you won’t be out there every day,” Riley said. Resident Pam Foster mentioned the possibility of bricking the building to better ensure any simulated fires don’t break loose and spread to the surrounding area, also introduced in Willems’ slideshow. Foster’s main question, however, was the necessity of creating a new facility when one exists near Hayden and has been used by the department in the past. Battalion Chief Dennis Jones explained the difficulties of transporting a large number of firefighters out of town, as well as all the equipment needed for proper training sessions. “We’re 25 minutes away, at best, with all the hoses laid out, and you can’t just drop all your equipment to drive back to Craig,” Jones said. “When you look at the logistics, it doesn’t make sense to go to Hayden. The facilities we’re talking about here tonight offer us so much more than just a front.” Jones said the amount of regular training already performed by the department each month, as well as additional quarterly sessions, would only benefit from the facility. Foster said the board has been sending “mixed messages” about the need for the new building and needed to better inform the public about their reasons, so as not to come off as “belligerent.” “Nobody has ever really come out and said, ‘We do this much a week or this much a month,’” she said. Secretary/Treasurer Chris Nichols said the board has attempted to operate with total “transparency” to assuage any public misgivings. Likewise, Willems said the board has recently worked on improving public relations with a greater online presence, among other efforts. He added that the turnout for the meeting — about 40 people — was one of the larger crowds he’s seen for a board meeting. “We typically only have firefighters come to these,” he said. The board members lauded the increased amount of people in the audience. “The best way to find out what’s going on is to attend these meetings,” board member Alan Webber said.
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