Fire district to ask voters to OK tax hike |

Fire district to ask voters to OK tax hike

Jane Stebbins

BRECKENRIDGE – The 26-year-old ladder truck at the Red, White and Blue Fire Department in Breckenridge has been to more fires in the first quarter of this year than in all of 2001.

But it can only carry four firefighters, and it was never designed to pump water.

Fire officials would like to change that situation, and will ask voters May 7 to approve a mill levy hike to hire employees, improve training and replace aging fire trucks at the Red, White and Blue Fire Department. The mill levy increase would bring an additional $960,000 into department coffers each year.

According to Assistant Fire Chief Gary Green, the fire department last went to a mill levy election in 1998 – and asked voters to decrease the mill levy from 5.2 to 4.5. In that same referred measure, voters also approved a question that allowed the district to gradually raise that mill levy back to 5.2 as needed. It reached 5.2 mills in January.

“The assessed valuations of properties were going up so rapidly then, we didn’t feel the need to tax people at that rate,” Green said. “The operations of the fire department could be funded at that mill levy.”

No longer. The cost to operate the station has almost doubled since 1998, from $1.49 million to $2.97 million.

The fire district is asking for 2 mills more, to 7.2 mills

The tax increase would be implemented over time, Green said. Officials there have examined a wide array of needs scenarios, ranging from replacing the ladder truck, buying another engine, the possible need for service in the Peak 7 and 8 areas and the need to hire more personnel.

Of primary concern is the ladder truck, Green said.

“We try to get 15 or 20 years out of a vehicle,” he said. “It’s the largest, most expensive piece of equipment we have. We’ve tried, through maintenance, to run it as long as we possibly could. Maintenance costs, new technology and firefighters’ safety needs has helped antiquate it. It’s served its purpose.”

A new ladder truck would have an 85- or 100-foot ladder, carry fire hose and at least five firefighters, have a pump and water tank, and feature better emergency lighting and a bucket at the end of the ladder.

“That’ll make it a lot more versatile – and certainly a lot more safe,” Green said.

Such a vehicle costs between $600,000 and $700,000, he said.

“But we’re not loading it up with a bunch of chrome,” Green said. “This is going to be a work truck, something that gets utilized every day, not something we just drive in parades. The ladder truck we have right now, we drive it around to shake the cobwebs off.”

The fire department also hopes to hire another fire prevention officer in the next year, and is monitoring the changes taking place among the volunteer ranks.

Officials plan to keep both the volunteer and resident programs – they save the district about $500,000 a year in salaries – but the ranks of volunteers are shrinking.

“There’s been a change in motivation,” Green said. “What used to motivate volunteers to join a fire department was the desire to serve the community. It’s difficult to work two or three jobs and meet the time commitment the fire department requires. Now we’re seeing younger individuals who see it as a foot in the door.”

The fire department currently has 30 active volunteers, 12 full-time resident firefighters and 19 staff and administrators.

And firefighters need to be trained. According to Green, between 75 and 80 percent of calls made each year by the Red, White and Blue Fire Department are medical calls, and only a small percentage of firefighters are certified in advanced life support as paramedics.

“If we can get a paramedic on each engine, we can get a paramedic on each scene in four minutes,” Green said. “That’s better for the community; that’s what we’re after.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or

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