Parmley retires after nearly 40 years of fire service in Summit County
June 25, 2015
He's helped both fight and prevent fires, creating one of Colorado's first wildfire mitigation programs. He united three separate fire departments together and saw Summit County grow during nearly 40 years as a fire chief. But now, Lake Dillon fire chief Dave Parmley is finally ready to hand over the reins to deputy chief Jeff Berino.
"I've had an outstanding run as fire chief, seeing things evolve and change the way they have since the late '70s when I first arrived in Summit County," Parmley said.
A small ceremony will be held this afternoon to commemorate this changing of the guard. But, it will also be a chance to say farewell to his "second family" at the department.
"As I step away from it at the end of the month, they have become very close — they are family. But, they'll be friends for life, so it's not like I won't stay in touch," he added with a smile.
He often mentioned Kathy, his wife, as a constant source of support throughout his career. The two met shortly after he moved to Summit County in 1977, to work with Keystone Resort's Risk Management Services, before there was a fire station in the area.
A local from Dillon, Kathy also worked at Keystone. They married one year later at Dillon Community Church.
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"You don't do jobs like this without having strong support on the home front," Parmley said. "When you're involved giving your time, putting your life on the line, it's important not to be forgotten and to be recognized."
Starting from scratch
Starting with nothing but a mini-pumper housed in a small garage beneath some condos, Keystone took an interest in the possibility of a fire district. Parmley, who was director of risk management in 1979, helped organize a steering committee to look into the possibility. The result was the creation of the Snake River Protection District in 1981, with a team of volunteers and two stations in Summit Cove and Montezuma.
"The '80s were tremendous growth years. There was a lot of new construction, with large buildings," he said. "But in some areas, they were going in faster than some of the local codes could keep up with. We had properties going up without any centralized fire-hydrant system, which incurred some very large fires, such as one at the base of Loveland Pass that occurred in May of '82."
He said with several of these construction fires, stretching from Keystone to Wildernest, firefighters often had to draft water out of the nearest source with no fire hydrants nearby. One fire in Dillon exhausted the water tank, forcing firefighters to pull water from the reservoir. With this in mind, Parmley saw a need for an updated fire code to match the surge of construction, mandating that water systems be in place before construction started.
"I think I can say very clearly that it's the heart of the volunteers that really did a lot to help not only meet the emergency response needs of tankers crashing on Loveland Pass, which happened all too frequently, or some of the major structure fires I had described," Parmley said. "They really would dedicate themselves at the sacrifice of personal time with families and so forth to meet those needs."
All hands on deck
By the mid-'90s, with the help of a recently retired bond, Snake River Fire was able to construct a station in Keystone, at a total cost of less than $2 million. Kathy Parmley and their two children, Emy and Andrew, helped build Station 11 as it stands today.
"There was a lot of hands-on stuff we were very much involved with," Kathy said.
She added that both children took an interest in their father's work from the beginning.
"They would both tackle each other to see who could ride shotgun for some of his calls," she said. "They both love their dad."
Later on, Emy served as a wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service after volunteering for Snake River Fire. Andrew also volunteered with the department, before serving in Iraq.
Kathy added that when their son was wounded in battle, the fire department was there for them, "no matter what."
"And then, they were there when our son finally came back to Summit County after his recovery. They lined our street with engines, along with many others from the community, flying the Red, White and Blue and cheering him home," Kathy said. "We will never forget their support during those times."
From the years of volunteering, Dave Parmley remembered his wife's support in helping respond to incidents, occasionally bringing in breakfast after an all-night ordeal. The call for service often interrupted family gatherings and holidays during those busy times of the year.
"It requires a lot more dedication of your time. It's not necessarily a 40-hour week," he said. "A week doesn't go by without something else."
Following several mergers between Dillon, Dillon Valley and Silverthorne fire districts, in 2006, he saw the opportunity for one of his greatest accomplishments — merging Snake River Fire and Lake Dillon Fire into one entity called Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue.
"It allowed us to do some things that each district individually couldn't accomplish," he said, adding that the three stations that were staffed 24-7 helped bring down the number of serious fires.
"It has helped keep more serious situations at a more manageable level where your intervention makes a difference. Especially when it comes to fire," he added.
While both he and Kathy look forward to the years to come, many county leaders will be sad to see them go.
"He's a man of character. He's humble, he's very bright, he understands the fire service in and out. He's just a wealth of knowledge," said Sheriff John Minor. "I'm gonna be honest: I'm going to miss that guy.
"Everything in the fire service … I think he's done it," he added with a laugh.
In the future, Parmley hopes to see more collaboration between Lake Dillon Fire and Summit County's Emergency Medical Services, as well as looking at further accreditation. Berino, who has worked with Parmley since 2005, will step into his place.
"I think Berino will do a wonderful job," Parmley said. "He has prepared for this for the last several years."
A ceremony for the changing of leadership will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 25, at the Silverthorne Pavilion. With no concrete plans for retirement yet, he plans to enjoy catching up with family, traveling, and volunteering.
"It's opening a new chapter and experiencing some different things that Kathy and I haven't been able to experience as much of," he said.
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