Leadville/Lake County Fire-Rescue continues to develop creative ways to care for the needs of our rapidly growing community. As emergency call volumes have increased, we realized early on that we had to put into place a strategic plan to ensure we have the staff and resources to provide greater response capabilities for all of Lake County.
The first task was to ensure that we had a staffing program in place to provide a highly specialized emergency response team that could adapt to our community’s changing needs.
Faced with personnel retention issues, we looked to the cause, finding that the our lower salary range made the department a natural training ground where, once trained, staff often moved on to other organizations. We also realized that our high call volume, diversity of response types and established training programs provided a desired training experience. In this we found a creative solution to our staff retention issue — embracing and strengthening our position as a natural training ground, growing it into something that would benefit all the emergency response agencies in Lake County.
In 2016, Leadville/Lake County Fire-Rescue (LLCFR) was awarded a highly competitive grant by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to support a resident/reserve program designed to provide incentives to bring in high-potential personnel to train for emergency response.
The grant provided four years of funding for the incentives while we built the program from 2017-2020. Those incentives included housing, meal stipends, technical and certification training, a stipend while on shift, and education up to an associate degree in fire science technology. The department would in turn receive the trainees’ services five days a month to serve on the fire engine to fill the fourth seat.
Residents and reserves received applied experience while helping the department supplement staffing. We also received the benefit of having a strong pool of applicants when full-time positions become available. In the past four years, we’ve hired four candidates that were fully trained, familiar with our operations and ready to serve. LLCFR will continue the program as the Reserve Internship Program, with the incentives provided by our operational budget and revenue made from contract work, such as wildland deployments.
We are also continuing our collaboration with Colorado Mountain College to provide related courses and fire academies, which our agency has been part of since 2003. We are also working with Lake County High School to create a fire corps program that will allow for students to receive for-credit experience with our department during their senior year.
The Headwaters Training Facility will provide the training space and resources necessary to support the training needs of all the emergency response agencies in Lake County. This training facility is another key component of the program for building up highly trained responders. This facility is under construction and is funded by the department’s fire fund balance and through a Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training grant that we worked on with the Leadville Police Department.
The final part of this plan is to provide a southern station to support this program, as well as other emergency response agencies in Lake County. The Fire Planning Board decided a multi-use facility would best serve the needs of the community.
The southern station will include a classroom-style area for trainings, meetings and community functions. The facility will also provide a housing area with nine bedrooms, six of which will house trainees in the Reserve Internship Program, two rooms will be used by ambulance personnel, and one room will be temporary housing for emergency response agencies’ new hires or visiting instructors. The station will also house a county road grader, search and rescue equipment, an ambulance when available, and fire department equipment.
Construction is currently underway on the station with funding provided by the fire fund balance, community donations through the Friends of Twin Lakes, and grants from the Department of Local Affairs, Climax Mine, the Lake County Community Fund and Life Time Fitness. The location of the facility is strategically placed at 141 C.R. 10, and we anticipate its completion by the end of the spring.
For the fire department, the second station will allow us to have better coverage in Lake County and less reliance on out-of-county fire agencies to cover our district during an emergency.
Ramping up dual response capabilities will help the department handle our increased call volume. Since 2017, we’ve experienced a 34 percent increase in emergency response calls where emergencies are occurring at the same time. With these greater response capabilities, we will also be able to conduct severity patrols on red flag days, which could prevent large wildfires, take part in more community activities, and respond to community needs appropriately.
We are proud of this community and look forward to serving Lake County residents with these improvements to our emergency response efforts.
Dan Dailey is the chief of Leadville/Lake County Fire-Rescue.