Addressing wildfire challenges at the Capitol

The last couple of weeks have been a bit chaotic with the collision of a heavy bill load in committee and on the Senate floor along with my need to tend to family matters while my husband had foot surgery. Rick is now back home and on the mend, but the surgeon essentially rewired the tendons in his foot and that’s no small adjustment.

Times like these are a very good reminder of the real world out there beyond the politics of the Capitol. It also brings into focus one’s priorities. For me, family comes first and we were lucky that Rick’s surgeon was in Boulder and he could recuperate at my apartment in Denver after the surgery, with me nearby to help as needed.

I drove him home last week and, along the way through the San Luis Valley and over Wolf Creek Pass into Durango, we noticed, unlike the northern half of the state, how little snow remains from the winter. Durango has already had its first runaway wildfire and many are bracing for this year’s fire season.

There’s been some positive movement on the emergency radio communications bill that I’m carrying based on meetings and conversations from constituent fire chiefs, emergency managers and law enforcement personnel in my district.

The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) has done preliminary figure setting for this year’s budget bill and they’ve set aside the amount needed to do the needs assessment and business plan called for in my bill to improve our statewide emergency radio communications system. While this is only a first step of many needed to get our system truly inter-operable, it’s a significant start to overhaul what so many of those directly involved in managing our emergencies say must be fixed.

The JBC also is bringing a bill of its own to provide some funding for upgrades to the existing system and, assuming that bill passes the full legislature, that bill, too, will be an important remedial measure.

Whether natural disasters or human-caused tragedies, those racing into harm’s way to help must have the ability to talk with fellow responders to evaluate and properly strategize on the best course of action. I believe these bills will help improve our current, admittedly deficient, statewide system.

Also encouraging news in addressing our wildfire challenges is a collaborative effort between local citizens and the U.S. Forest Service occurring in the San Luis Valley after the West Fork Complex fires that burned last summer, just east of my district. They’ve pulled together a diverse number of stakeholders to address the forest health and watershed connection and are hoping to mitigate the damage as what snow they do have melts this spring and washes down the burned areas near Creede and South Fork.

Another bill that’s related to firefighting is Sen. Steve King’s, (R-Grand Junction), proposal for Colorado to acquire a small fleet of firefighting helicopters and planes of its own. King has been working on this idea for a couple of years now and has strong bipartisan support from Senate leadership. In the meantime, we’re hoping to receive the report from the governor’s office soon regarding the airfleet recommendations made by the director of Colorado’s Division of Fire Prevention and Control.

Time is of the essence on this critically important, statewide issue.