Busy fire protection district needs new station, lacks funds

Capt. Gene Holder of the Lower Valley Fire Protection District squeezes past a mirror on a new ambulance in one of the bays in Fruita. The new truck is too large to fit where older ambulances are parked. The department hopes to build a new station to alleviate the crowded conditions.



The blueprints are drawn up. The utility lines have been relocated.

All that’s needed now is $2.5 million in order for the Lower Valley Fire Protection District to build a new fire station in Fruita.

Stuck in a 25-year-old facility constructed predominantly for volunteers in what was then a little farming town, the far-flung district is facing the same predicament of untold other local governments: There is a need, but no money.

And even though the recession has dried up numerous grants and other sources of funding on which small towns and cities depend, it hasn’t slowed calls for service.

Through the first nine months of the year, Lower Valley responded to 1,300 calls for fire and emergency medical service, an 8 percent increase over the same period last year.

“Even with the state of the economy, people still need emergency services,” Fire Chief Frank Cavaliere said.

The six paid staff members and 25 volunteers work in a district that includes 25,000 residents and spreads across 405 square miles. Cavaliere estimates the service area doubles when Lower Valley firefighters and emergency-medical technicians respond to calls that occasionally take them as far west as Cisco, Utah, and as far north as Douglas Pass. Lower Valley handles those calls because it’s closer than agencies that would respond from Garfield County or Grand County, Utah.

Lower Valley received a $155,000 grant from the state Department of Local Affairs last year, but Cavaliere said that was just enough to have the fire station construction documents completed.

He estimates $2.5 million would cover the construction of a roughly 15,000-square-foot, two-story addition that would be attached to the 7,000-square-foot station at 168 N. Mesa St.

Cavaliere said the existing station doesn’t have enough office space or any sleeping quarters or showers. One large room serves as a kitchen and living room. A trailer at the back of the station serves as additional office and operational space.

“The stuff that we have just isn’t up to par for the kind of operation we have,” Cavaliere said.

The fire chief said officials are working on a strategic plan to look at ways to sock away more money for a new station, figuring it likely will be years before construction begins.

In the meantime, Cavaliere said he hopes to add a seventh paid firefighter to his staff next year to help handle the increasing call volume and beef up overnight staffing.

Currently, the district has paid staff on duty from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Volunteers respond to calls the other 12 hours of the day.

But fearing volunteer burnout, retirement and attrition, Cavaliere said he wants to hire another firefighter so that a paid staff member would be available to provide fire and EMS service 24 hours a day.


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