GJ chiefs ask for official vehicles
Grand Junction city councilors are expected to decide at their meeting tonight whether to spend nearly $58,000 to purchase two sport utility vehicles for the city’s police chief and fire chief.
Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper and Grand Junction Fire Chief Ken Watkins currently each receive $350 a month as reimbursement for using their personal vehicles.
If councilors approve the vehicle purchases, the monthly stipend would go away.
Part of the rationale for buying the vehicles includes being better able to respond to incidents in an official capacity, the chiefs said.
Watkins admitted he doesn’t often respond to fire calls, but that would change, especially for large or complex emergencies. After a scathing, internal critique of their response of the fire at White Hall, 600 White Ave., fire officials determined they needed to enhance their communication structure.
Watkins could lead communications on large-scale calls.
Currently, Watkins has a radio to listen in on fire calls, but it’s not always in his vehicle. New vehicles would be equipped with lights and sirens and a radio. Having an official-looking vehicle would help the chief to more quickly gain access to a scene, pressing beyond what is typically a pileup of vehicles, he said.
“The issue has become the practical part of emergency response,” he said. “It has been fairly difficult to respond to a scene in a personal vehicle. It’s almost impossible to get through and go around other cars. Drivers get upset at you.”
Watkins said he occasionally uses one of the Fire Department’s six other fleet vehicles to attend conferences or attend to other duties, but that takes the vehicle away from other workers. There are 16 people who work in the Fire Department’s administration department. Three of the department’s six fleet vehicles are slated for fire prevention education and outreach.
If approved, the new vehicles would be included as part of the department’s fleet, but would also be take-home vehicles for the chiefs.
Watkins said it’s more common than not for fire chiefs of area departments to have their own response vehicles. Kent Holsan, fire chief of the Clifton Fire Protection District, isn’t one of them, though.
Holsan said his board offered years ago to purchase him a response vehicle, but he declined. The board then insisted he place a light bar on his roof, but he removed it after it nearly caused a crash.
Holsan, like other Clifton fire employees, is reimbursed for mileage on his personal vehicle.
“I don’t hardly respond to calls anymore, so I don’t need it,” he said.
Police Chief John Camper said he responds to crime scenes “fairly frequently,” and he would probably respond to more scenes from home if he had an official vehicle. Currently, Camper said, he drives to the Police Department to check out a fleet vehicle to drive to a scene.
“There’s not too many law enforcement chiefs that don’t have a car assigned to them,” he said. “It just makes more sense. There’s no reason to be paying a car allowance when we could have a vehicle available to the fleet.”
The lowest bidder for the two Ford Explorer XLT 4-wheel-drive vehicles was Columbine Ford in Rifle, at $57,665, according to city staff. Leasing the vehicles will cost about $700 a month, the amount the chiefs are reimbursed for their personal vehicle use, the city said.