EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - The Black Forest Fire Board announced Wednesday it will cut one part-time firefighter position and stop staffing its second fire station with part-time employees to cover the costs of its investigation and public relations firm.
The board collected $185,000 from more than 10 sections of the budget to cover its legal fees. The legal fees include $125,000 in bills to a public relations firm and independent investigator. The investigator looked into accusations concerning Fire Chief Bob Harvey's decisions during the initial hours of the Black Forest Fire from El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa to KRDO NewsChannel 13.
The fire board's treasurer listed these areas as places where money will be pulled from to cover the costs: directors' training and workshops, wages for part-time staff, firefighter supplies and expenses, firefighting health and safety, fire prevention, fire classes and prevention, vehicle repair maintenance, and medical service.
Residents who attended Wednesday's meeting voiced concerns about the elimination of a part-time position and staff at Fire Station 2.
Fire Station 2 is staffed by two part-time firefighters. The Fire Board said it would not be safe for only one firefighter to stay there so a decision was made to move that part-time firefighter to its main fire station on Teachout Road.
When asked for clarification, Board treasurer Walt Seelye said at the meeting one part-time firefighter position would be eliminated. However, spokesperson Kathy Russell said in an email after the meeting the point needs to be clarified and said, "temporary adjustment to the 2014 budget has reduced those firefighters' opportunities for extra income, but this has not caused any individual firefighter to become unemployed."
According to Black Forest Fire Protection District's website, Fire Station 2 was built to improve response time and homeowners' ISO ratings. ISO ratings are public protection classifications based on data analysis of fire suppression ratings. It impacts homeowners' insurance rates. By building a second fire station, homeowners' ISO ratings went up because they fell within 5 miles of a fire station.
Diane Apodaca attended Wednesday's meeting. She lives near Fire Station 2 and said she is worried about her safety and tax dollars.
"It's ridiculous," said Apodaca. "We didn't have any complaints about building this (first fire station) because our fire station was small but they built that (Fire Station 2) and we said, OK because there are a lot of houses out there. Now they aren't going to man it? That doesn't make any sense. I don't know how much it costs but we pay for it."
Board member Preston Cooper assured residents at the meeting that Station 2 will remain open and served by volunteers.
Chairman Ed Bracken also commented that it wouldn't affect homeowners.
"We didn't impact the coverage that the district is going to have. It might be a couple minutes longer but quite frankly most of the responses out of Station 2 were to Falcon (Fire District)," said Bracken.
The board did not know if the decision would have a negative impact on homeowners' ISO ratings, which could make insurance go up.
Several residents also asked why taxpayer dollars were used to build a second fire station if it doesn't impact safety.
"The point of the building there is, we wanted to build that building. And the decision was made before any of us. That decision was made on the decision of the ISO rating because when this building (Fire Station 1) was built, then the homes in the northern part of the district were outside the radius where they were subject to a higher ISO rating in the next evaluation," said Bracken.
The Fire Board has not received final bills from the investigator or public relations firm. It can move money back into certain areas of the budget if it doesn't spend the $185,000 pulled to cover costs.
The Fire Board said as more money becomes available in the future, it will re-evaluate staffing Fire Station 2.