Northwest Denver does not have the fire protection resources it had nor what it needs as population and structure height and density have increased. Three separate factors are creating a perfect storm.
1) As long as the need for a fire department has been recognized, minimizing response time has been deemed critical for one overriding reason: the growth of a fire over time is exponential. What happens in the first few minutes of a fire determines the course of the next few hours. Fire Station 17 at West 45th Avenue and Tennyson Street, where no help comes from the North or West, used to have both a 4-person, pumping engine company (with the primary job of attacking a fire) and a 4-person, ladder truck (with the primary job of performing search and rescue and several other essential tasks). Through successive budget cuts, the truck company is now gone, and the assigned truck responds from West 26th Avenue and Federal Boulevard. Its district extends south of Colfax Avenue and, if it is busy, the back-up ladder truck, which responded to more than 7,000 calls last year, comes from Downtown. That’s unacceptable. The ladder truck Downtown needs help, due to that high call volume.
2) In response to the conflagration in Denver more than a hundred years ago, reforms were enacted, and we’re all familiar with the brick, three-story apartment buildings that have resisted and contained fires since then. Our success has now led to complacency and shortcuts. A look at the new apartments of 3 and 4 stories on top of parking garages that have combustible siding and are packed closely together should make anyone cringe, especially if one imagines a well-involved car fire between them. We are building a conflagration. And then the model building code which called for sprinkler systems in the new 3-story, single-family and duplex residences was amended not to require them. Implicitly, the City Council is saying, “Don’t worry, the fire department can handle it.” Yet, with the ladder company’s delayed response, insufficient firefighters on scene and the engine companies’ ladders not reaching third story bedrooms, we have a horrifying scenario!
3) While an investment used to be made in fuel pumps at Northwest Denver fire stations, presently all fire apparatus vacate their districts for up to an hour to refuel at public works facilities at either I-25 and Alameda or E. 56th and Roslyn (east of Quebec). Simply put, this much out-of-district time is unacceptable from both fire and medical response standpoints, considering that brain damage occurs from 4 – 6 minutes after a heart stops beating (not from the time the fire department gets the call). There is, of course, a fuel cost associated with apparatus traveling this much distance. Beyond that, there is an opportunity cost. A fire company covering into a vacated district for a call leaves its own district vacant. With the advent of GPS on the apparatus linked to computer-assisted dispatching, the possibility arises that a company making a fueling trip may be dispatched to a call in another district, leaving its home district vacant that much longer. This fueling problem also is affecting the police department’s district coverage.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! The bottom line is that providing quality, timely and efficient fire and medical services should never be considered optional, but rather a cost of doing business as a city. Denver Council District One deserves better than we are presently getting. Mike Somma, with community fire protection expertise, will “connect the dots” of cumulative effects and fight to:
1) Restore Truck 17, other units and staff the Hazardous Materials Company again. Now an engine crew “plays a shell game,” returning to the firehouse if out and changing apparatus to go on a call.
2) Keep the focus on both codes, and public safety departments in front of City Council like no other Council candidate in all of Denver can do. All of Denver deserves that, and
3) Keep fire apparatus needing fuel in NW Denver through either tanker deliveries directly into vehicles at the stations, use of fleet credit cards or restoration of station fuel pumps.
Roy Gelbhaus, Retired Denver Fire Captain