County considers fires and funding

Staff Writer

With fire season just around the corner, all three items on the agenda of the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioners’ special meeting Tuesday morning concerned firefighting and the county’s Department of Emergency Operations.

For the most part, the items were annual business for the board — adopting the Archuleta County Annual Operating Plan, approving an intergovernmental agreement with the state Department of Public safety for the Colorado Emergency Fire Fund, and accepting a federal grant to offset the cost of emergency management in the county.

But the meeting also indicated a shortfall within the county’s Department of Emergency Management, which is a division of the Archuleta County Sheriff’s Office.

During the public comment portion of the agenda item on the Colorado Emergency Fire Fund, Archuleta County Sheriff Pete Gonzalez noted that the department was having problems hiring a full seasonal fire crew.

The problem, Gonzalez indicated, stems from the fact that Archuleta County pays below-average wages (around $12, versus the going rate of $15-$16 per hour), making recruiting for the position difficult.

Currently, the department has hired for one of the three positions available.

Thad McKain, the county’s director of emergency management, noted that all three seasonal firefighters from last year had moved on to other jobs, again informing the commissioners of the pay discrepancy.

Commissioner Clifford Lucero asked about the possibility of fighting fires elsewhere to make money for the county — a proposition considered in previous years.

To that, Gonzalez said the department did not have the manpower to have a crew to fight fires at the national level, again noting the salary discrepancy.

ACSO Undersheriff Rich Valdez informed the board that, once the additional two positions are filled, the department’s intent is to make a crew available to fight fires nationally.

Valdez further explained that last year, the department felt its equipment was not reliable enough to pledge it as a resource, but that new equipment has solved that problem.

By sending a fire crew to fires across the country when they are not needed in Archuleta County, Valdez estimated the department could generate several thousand dollars, noting Los Pinos made about $100,000 last year, but with more manpower and equipment.

The three agenda items listed for the special meeting, too, have financial implications for the county, namely during fire season.

The Archuleta County Annual Fire Operating plan sets standard operating procedures, agreed procedures and responsibilities for implementing cooperative wildland fire management within the county.

The biggest change to the document this year, McKain noted, was a change to the list of resources provided by the county, swapping out one piece of equipment for the use of Cloman Community Park.

The Colorado Emergency Fire Fund is a statewide fund paid into by agencies, with that money then going to offset costs of large fire incidents.

“Archuleta County doesn’t have the funds to fight a huge fire,” Lucero noted, adding that the county needed to make sure everything was in place — a sentiment Steve Wadley and Michael Whiting echoed.

The last agenda item was accepting a grant for $79,859.64 to offset the county’s cost of emergency management programs.

While down from last year’s amount, the grant helps the county fund positions and activities required within the department.