Where’s the fire?
Does it make sense for multiple fire departments to coexist in one area? Is it necessary for neighboring communities to invest in similar equipment, build extra fire stations or even to pay the salaries of multiple fire chiefs?
For years, conversations have surfaced about combining the services offered by the Grand Valley’s fire districts. However, a new flame is burning under those ideas in light of the recession and a growing need for a fire station in the Pear Park area, Grand Junction Fire Chief Ken Watkins said.
“As leaders and managers, it’s our job to always look for improvements,” Watkins said. “Could we do it better? Can we find some efficiencies? Theoretically, there should be savings. It’s good government to look at it and evaluate it.”
As Grand Junction’s boundaries move east toward Clifton, the Grand Junction and Clifton fire departments are considering coordinating their responses.
Mesa County residents near the city’s boundaries have the option to annex into the city of Grand Junction. This arrangement has created a checkerboard section of county and Grand Junction city residents between 30 and 32 roads.
In this area, the Clifton Fire Protection District offers fire and emergency medical services to 2,537 Grand Junction residents who live in the buffer zone. Those Grand Junction residents, through property taxes, pay Clifton’s mill levy rate for fire services.
This situation has drawn some complaints from residents who question why they were annexed into the city of Grand Junction only to receive services from Clifton, Watkins said.
“I’ll be honest, it’s a total mess,” he said during a recent presentation to Grand Junction City Council. “There’s problems with assessment payments. Is this truly what we want as a community?”
In some regards, the two fire stations already overlap by conducting joint training sessions and honoring mutual-aid-response agreements.
Grand Junction Fire Department officials are looking at long-range plans to build more stations where people live, further from its core.
But fire officials realize the most imprudent use of funds would be to mimic what happens in some other communities: Side-by-side fire stations operated by separate agencies.
Instead of consolidating completely, the two agencies could choose to share one station in an area situated to best serve residents in both areas.
Clifton Fire Protection District Chief Kent Holsan agreed that fire service in the Pear Park area has become confusing for residents.
It may be easier for two stations to combine services from one future Pear Park fire station location than to fully integrate both departments, Holsan said.
“I don’t think we would have any problems,” he said of the agencies working together. “The problem’s going to be the politics. Who’s going to run the agency?”
A move to combine departments would require a vote by Grand Junction City Council and approval from Clifton’s fire board, Watkins said.
A complete conversion to one agency would take a few years.
Glenwood Springs Fire Department, the Burning Mountains Fire Protection District of Silt, and the Rifle Fire Protection District are studying whether to combine.
Grand Junction Fire Department may consider hiring a consultant working with those agencies to determine whether the switch would work for the Grand Valley, Watkins said.
Some Front Range cities long have coordinated their fire services.
Consolidating agencies is hardly the first time local groups have worked together, Watkins said
“It’s not like this is new to us,” he said. “There are a lot of partnerships that go on in the valley.”