The Current State of Firefighting Equipment in Colorado

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When the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control began visiting fire formations across the state, what they saw terrified them.

DENVER — When Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control visited fire trainings across the state, what they saw terrified them.

They saw volunteer firefighters using twenty to thirty year old gear and equipment and knew they were using that same gear in emergency calls.

This is equipment that is not up to the best standards or is not properly fitted, putting firefighters at risk of injury and long-term health problems.

State legislation passed this year provided $5 million for new equipment, with a majority going to volunteer firefighters, including in West Douglas County.

The people who work in the West Douglas County Fire Protection District have a great responsibility. They have responded to everything from rescuing a young baby from a swimming pool to canyon fires and wildfires.

That’s a lot of responsibility for an all-volunteer team, juggling daily chores, families and emergencies.

Thomas Jordan has been a volunteer for ten years. He was also in the Air Force for 26 years and retired as an American Airlines pilot just two weeks ago.

“It’s about merging the two jobs as best you can,” he said.

Alex Horne has been a volunteer firefighter for thirteen and a half years.

He also owns his own mortgage company.

“My first desire to be part of the department is to save my own home during a wildfire,” he said.

Their fellow firefighters are carpenters, engineers and architects, to name a few.

Volunteers have missed events with their children, family reunions, postponed their own work to be there when someone calls 911.

They know they’re making those sacrifices, but don’t always know what they’re giving up when they put on their gear.

Both Jordan and Horne have explained that their gear sometimes fails to fit properly, is very heavy, or just plain old, dating back to 2001. Over the years, they’ve learned the risk of it putting them at risk. whether it’s heart attacks or cancer.

“It’s heavy equipment,” Jordan said, “the old equipment is 80 pounds. The new equipment we’re getting is lightweight and much easier physically for a firefighter to fight structural fires. The other thing is cancer.”

Jordan said old gear is more difficult to wash away toxic substances, and firefighters often leave it in their cars or homes. The new equipment will be much easier to clean.

More than 70% of Colorado firefighters are volunteers, working with agencies that don’t have the budget to cover all of their needs. When the state began visiting the formations, they were appalled to see the condition of the equipment. Everything from holes in jackets to shoes that failed to withstand what was required of firefighters.

“Volunteers are providing a service to our society without reimbursement and their health and safety could be compromised,” said Lori Brill, of the state’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

Brill said having the wrong equipment can change how they respond to an emergency, whether a rescue is realistic and how to fight a house fire as examples.

“I hope this will extend my life,” Jordan said, “I’m 65. My days of firefighting are limited. I hope I can do it for as many years as possible. The new equipment will protect me even more.”

Their families hope for the same. Margaret Guthrie is married to one of the John Volunteers. They met on a mission trip to Mexico. Both are widowed and met about a year and a half ago.

She is new to Colorado and to the world of volunteer firefighters.

She says I love you and I pray for you every time John leaves for a call.

Then she discovered the condition of the equipment.

“Now that I know how old the equipment is,” Guthrie said, “it’s nerve-wracking.”

Families and firefighters share the relief that the department is receiving new equipment, knowing that whatever their commitment to the community would remain the same.

“It’s going to help us be better at what we do,” Horne said, “we’ll be more comfortable and safer and more enduring when we’re on stage.”

DFPC section chief Lisa Pines said their state agency was administering the grant and was receiving requests totaling $17 million when they had $5 million to give. This $5 million reached 84 agencies.

“That really should be unacceptable to the communities they serve,” Pines said. Many of these agencies with outdated equipment hold community fundraisers to help their budget.

Pines said of the $5 million, about $200,000 went to the West Douglas Fire Protection District.

“They were going to do it no matter what,” Pines said, “Keep coming out with equipment that doesn’t meet NFPA standards. They’re committed to doing a job for their community.” Often, volunteer firefighters are the closest and usually the first on the scene, including historic fires that have broken records in Colorado.

A Senate bill passed in the last session will help provide an additional $10 million over the next two years to continue helping volunteer firefighters with their equipment.

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