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Colo. senator wants to change chain of command for wildfires

Bill to change chain of command for wildfires

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - A Colorado senator says the system for chain of command isn't working when it comes to wildfires.

Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, will introduce a bill Wednesday that would give the county authority to take command of a wildfire without permission from the local agency.

"One of the lessons learned I think in El Paso County was that the Sheriff needs to have the authority to do what he needs to do with his forces," Lambert said.

This comes after scrutiny that Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey didn't react quickly enough to the state's most destructive wildfire.  El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa says Harvey didn't pass command to the county in a timely fashion.

Sen. Lambert told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that the bill is also beneficial because state authorities look to the county for information during emergency situations.  Maketa supports the bill, but other wildfire experts say they're not so sure.

Greg Heule is a retired firefighter with the United States Forest Service.  He is now a public information officer during wildfires, including the Waldo Canyon Fire.

"I feel uncomfortable when you say the county can take over the incident without the permission of the initial responders," Heule said.  "At that point, when you have a transfer of command, it's the most dangerous time for the firefighters."

Heule said creating this chain of command could create a negative environment and confusion for firefighters.

"Sometimes you can lose track of folks, you can lose track of who your boss is, who you need to talk to, frequencies on the radio can change -- so it becomes a very hazardous time," he said.

Heule said that while there is room for improvement and growth from the lessons learned in Colorado wildfires, he doesn't believe this bill is the correct route.  He said it would be important for Lambert to consult with the Division of Fire Prevention and Control.  Lambert told KRDO NewsChannel 13 that the division was not involved in drafting the bill.

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