Red, White and Blue Fire after new recruits as call volumes continue to climb | SummitDaily.com

Red, White and Blue Fire after new recruits as call volumes continue to climb

Spring break is a busy time for first responders, but a group of firefighters from the Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District nonetheless offered up some of their time on Thursday evening to share advice with a group of eager applicants for the department's upcoming hiring round.

The event provided some insight on life on the inside at one of only 234 agencies worldwide to hold accreditation from the Center for Public Safety and Excellence, an elite designation that imposes rigorous reviews of an agency's emergency response capabilities.

In Summit County, those types of responses extend well beyond fires, from medical emergencies to hazmat spills to wildfires.

"This department is kind of unique in that it's not just sitting around in the station," said operations captain Derek Goossen. "If you want the opportunity to go out and do something, this department right here is probably going to be doing it."

Last year, that included conducting an evacuation when a cache of World War II-era bazooka rounds was dropped off at an RWB station for disposal. The munitions were recognized to be potentially unstable, prompting a bomb squad from Fort Carson to come in and secure them.

Since 2012, RWB has seen its calls for service increase steadily. Last year, the department responded to 2070 calls, a 34 percent increase since 2012. More than half of those were for emergency medical response, but they also included 90 hazmat calls and 33 fires.

Red, White & Blue is a lean but highly capable outfit where firefighters need to be well versed in the whole range of skills that emergency response demands, crewmembers said.

Unlike some larger, urban departments where firefighters often specialize in one or two particular tasks, members of RWB might be called upon to do just about anything on a particular call — from breaking down a door during a structure fire to providing emergency medical care.

"In some places, a structure fire is kind of like a carnival ride where people hop on to work the nozzle and then rotate out," said firefighter and paramedic Brent Chapman. "That doesn't happen here. Everywhere you see a fire, you're going to have to be sharp. There's nowhere to hide, and if you're lacking a skill your crew is going to have to make up for that."

One unique aspect of fire departments serving urban-wilderness areas is the frequency of wildfire calls in rugged mountain terrain. Last year, crews responded to at least nine such fires, including the recent French Gulch lightning fire near the Wellington neighborhood.

That has made RWB an asset to other jurisdictions, and the department has deployed crews to wildland fires across the country. Just this week, a team of firefighters returned from a nine-day deployment battling prairie fires in Kansas.

But residential calls — particularly for EMS — still constitute the vast majority of RWB's operations. The steady increase in those calls, reflecting continued growth in Summit County, is prompting the department to open a satellite substation near the Peak 7 and 8 areas, which have seen a slate of new developments.

That station is set to open this spring, and will be staffed by a full-time, two-person crew and feature two emergency response vehicles.

To help meet the growing demand, RWB is looking to bring on several more firefighters, and applications are already significantly up from last year, human resources officer Amanda Seidler said.

The process includes a written test as well as a grueling physical fitness exam that includes running up five flights of stairs with a fully loaded pack and hoisting a rope with a 50-pound weight up three stories, among other challenges.

One of the most important things that RWB looks for in a candidate, however, is whether or not they'll be a good personality fit. Crews work 48-hour shifts, and for that time they do virtually everything together — cooking, eating, cleaning and of course, responding to calls.

"You develop very deep relationships on the level of brothers and sisters, and that's very unique to fire service," Goossen said. "You have to kind of change some of your life around, but the rewards are just great. Every day you get to show and try to make someone's worst day better."