Wildfire affects everyone and it knows no fire district boundaries. A fire that starts in Bailey can spread east or west, north or south. The Hayman fire of 2002 burned a total of 138,114 acres in Douglas, Jefferson, Park and Teller counties. And it’s wildfire season again.
Over the next few months, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office will hand off the fire and emergency medical services main dispatch duties to Evergreen Fire and Rescue. This will enable the fire districts of North Fork, Elk Creek, Indian Hills, Intercanyon and Foothills to have a dedicated dispatch center.
The dispatch center is manned 24 hours a day by at least two communication specialists.
Doug Saba, the community educator at Evergreen, gave an approximate timeline for the takeover of the dispatch duties.
“In April we will start handling Foothills fire calls and the medical will still be handled by Jeffco Sheriff. In May we will add Intercanyon and Indian Hills and by mid-summer we will add North Fork and Elk Creek,” he said.
The 911 calls will still come into Jeffco dispatch and most fire and medical incidents will be forwarded to Evergreen.
In an email, Elk Creek Fire Protection District’s fire chief Bill McLaughlin detailed the advantages of the dispatch changeover.
“There are several advantages to having Evergreen take over dispatching,” McLaughlin said. “Currently, the sheriff’s office rotates one law enforcement dispatcher over to fire dispatching; these dispatchers are not trained in fire dispatching.”
McLaughlin explained that the Evergreen dispatchers handle only fire and EMS dispatching, and will be able to push incident information out to mobile data computers (or tablets) in the fire engines and command cars.
Part of the move, according to McLaughlin, also includes unifying the radio system, so the mountain area fire departments can all talk directly to each other and so the dispatch can simultaneously send dispatch calls to more than one department.
“Evergreen will be able to keep track of what resources are sent to incidents, something Jeffco was never willing to do,” McLaughlin said.
Finally, this will provide a financial benefit to many of the residents, according to McLaughlin, as Evergreen will be able to dispatch Automatic Aid – a software feature that alerts more than one fire district in overlapping county areas.
“This gives residents in border areas better coverage and reduces insurance rates dramatically,” he said.
For the first year the funding will be supplied by the Jefferson County Emergency Communications Authority. And then each year afterward the local agency will be responsible for increments of 25 percent of the cost until they are fully paying for the service.
Keeping informed during an emergency
Even after emergency personnel have been dispatched to an incident, mountain residents have a number of different outlets to be kept informed of everything from what’s happening on the fire line to evacuation plans.
Residents that have an Internet connection can log onto online forums that constantly update emergency activity, weather and even live audio feeds to listen to the sheriff and fire department’s radio transmissions.
The My Mountain Town, Disaster Support Volunteers and Pinecam are online forums with scanner teams. These are groups of dedicated radio enthusiasts who monitor the radio transmissions from the various state and local agencies and then post the information to the internet in the form of messages.
Jack Frank, who runs Disaster Support Volunteers and is also part of the My Mountain Town scanner team, remarked on the dispatch changeover.
“I think that it could be an advantage to mountain residents if (dispatch) is more familiar with the area, particularly familiar with the local roads and features,” he said.
Franks holds an Extra Class radio license and is a member of the Park County Radio Club. His ham radio handle is “W0DSV” and he uses a number of radios to monitor emergency transmissions on a daily basis.
My Mountain Town’s scanner forum is at http://mymountaintown.com/forums/scanner--amp--emergency-info--weather-forecasts.
The link for the Disaster Support Volunteers is http://www.disastersupportvolunteers.com/d7/scanner-rss, and the link for Pinecam’s scanner and weather forum can be accessed at http://www.pinecam.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=135.
Also, Broadcastify is a free service which makes radio feeds from scanners all over the world available online. The feed for the local mountain area sheriff and fire departments is located at http://www.broadcastify.com/listen/feed/4269/web.
During an emergency, Park County residents may receive a reverse 911 call from the county warning of a pending danger or evacuation.
Code Red is a supplemental emergency communication method that calls land lines, Voice Over Internet and mobile phones. To add communication devices into the Code Red database, go to http://cne.coderedweb.com/Default.aspx. The service is free.
In Park County you can find out more about Code Red by visiting http://www.parkco.us/faq.aspx?TID=21 and in Jefferson County the information is at http://jeffco.us/sheriff/code-red-emergency-notifications/.
Residents without Internet access can register their numbers with the Code Red system by calling the Park County Office of Emergency Management at 719-836-4372. For Jefferson County, call the sheriff’s office at 303-277-0211.
Emergency preparedness and disaster risk reduction is everyone’s business, from the local government agencies, volunteer sectors and mountain resident.