Summit Fire & EMS finalizes decadeslong consolidation
Fire officials address costs and likelihood of Silverthorne station
After years of mergers and changing titles, Summit Fire & EMS has officially emerged as a single, consolidated fire protection district.
For decades, Summit County residents have watched as the organization slowly evolved and merged with fire departments from Dillon, Dillon Valley, Frisco, Silverthorne and Snake River. With the service’s most recent coupling with the Summit County Ambulance Service in 2019 and the formalization of the Copper Mountain Consolidated Metro District’s inclusion in the conglomerate in November, Summit Fire officials decided it was finally time to bring operations under a single banner.
“We often say people don’t worry about the logo on the door of your fire engine,” Summit Fire spokesperson Steve Lipsher said. “They just want you there quickly when they need you. And that still stands. But now we feel like we have a single identity, a single organization with a single purpose.”
The newly named Summit Fire & EMS Fire Protection District serves the communities of Copper Mountain, Dillon, Dillon Valley, Frisco, Keystone, Silverthorne, Summit Cove, Wildernest, the northern portions of Summit County and all of the areas in between.
While the name update won’t create any changes in terms of services or response, Lipsher said the district is hopeful it will help to clear up confusion for community members and streamline operations. Formerly, Summit County residents within the organization’s service area would be taxed by different entities, including the Lake Dillon Fire Protection District and the Copper Mountain Consolidated Metro District, in addition to property taxes collected by the county for the ambulance service.
Together, the three entities operated cooperatively under the title of the Summit Fire & EMS Authority. Now, thanks to some “legal wrangling,” the organization is a fire district. Among the more notable changes internally, the move means that Summit Fire will no longer have to answer to three boards of directors and will be led by a single, publicly elected board of five members.
The move should also provide some level of stability after years of change.
“Each organization brought with it its own kind of subculture,” Lipsher said. “We all recognize that we’re all on the same team trying to do the same thing, which is to serve the public and help people who are having bad days have better days. But as we merged and consolidated with various organizations, there were some growing pains in terms of juggling roles and changing titles. … We all have really embraced this idea that we are now unified under the same banner.”
Summit Fire Chief Travis Davis said there wouldn’t be any more mergers or consolidations in the foreseeable future. But there are still some notable projects on the horizon for the fire district.
Silverthorne residents and officials have voiced a desire to once again have a Summit Fire & EMS presence in town after the district vacated its office in favor of the new administration building in Frisco.
Lipsher said the department hasn’t had a response station in the town for more than a decade. With the closest response station in Dillon, there are legitimate concerns that a lack of first responders in the area could be troublesome, primarily in the winter when there is a chance that poor weather and traffic could clog routes for fire engines and ambulances heading through the Interstate 70 underpass. Summit Fire frequently keeps responders on the Silverthorne side just in case.
But opening a new response station is a costly endeavor. Lipsher pointed to an up-front cost of about $8 million to get the station set up, along with about $2 million annually to staff it. He noted that based on formal studies of the district’s call volumes and geography, it’s something they’re not able to justify financially at this time. Though, Lipsher said discussions are ongoing to try to address the concerns.
“The conversation is really how do we maintain prompt, efficient emergency response?” Lipsher said. “How do we provide peace of mind for residents of Silverthorne and points north? … These are all things that are being discussed, debated and contemplated. We don’t have any easy answers at this point.”
District officials are also considering how best to cope with the upcoming loss of one of their revenue streams. Summit County voters approved a property tax in 2012 to help fund the county’s ambulance service, which has since joined forces with Summit Fire. The measure will sunset in January 2023.
Summit Fire will likely have to find an alternative revenue source before then. Lipsher said there has been some chatter around asking voters for a mill-levy increase in November, though no decisions have been made. With regard to how a potential loss in funds would impact operations, Lipsher said the district hasn’t contemplated it yet.
“That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get there,” he said.
Regardless, Summit Fire & EMS officials said they’re ready to take on whatever challenges lie ahead.
“We are by no means ready to rest, as we know that there will continue to be evolving needs in our various communities,” Davis said. “There’s always plenty of work to ensure that we have prepared, planned, trained, equipped and staffed Summit Fire & EMS to provide the coverage that our residents have rightfully come to expect.”
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