From policy to preparedness: Rep. Gibbs – wildland firefighter
June 22, 2007
Summit County, CO ColoradoDILLON – Despite the 45-pound black vest hanging from their shoulders, they made the fast paced three-mile trek along the bike path by Dillon Dam Road appear effortless.Rep. Dan Gibbs and Brandon Williams, Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue public information officer, took the lead with long strides under the beating sun to complete the test in less than 45 minutes. It was the final piece they needed to receive a Red Card, certifying them in wildland firefighting. “I’ve always thought I’m only as effective as I know the issues locally,” said Gibbs, D-Silverthorne. “I can champion the need if I have practical experience.”
So, to tackle the issue of wildfires, he enrolled in a week-long training course in Alamosa that taught him the basics in fire attack tactics and safety. He received class certification at the beginning of the month and Thursday he passed the physical portion along with three members of Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue – Williams, who took the test for the first time with Gibbs, and assistant chief Steve Skulski and Captain Kim McDonald, who renewed their annual certification.The test represented the hiking with equipment they may have to do to fight a wildfire in a remote location, and now that Gibbs completed it, he will be entered into a database used to call up teams of wildland firefighters when needed.”I do want to get out there and fight some wildfires. I hope there won’t be any, but I’m realistic to know that’s not likely the case. … It will be a valuable experience,” Gibbs said.And since Colorado’s legislature is only in session from January to May, he will have the remainder of the year available to respond. Hopefully, after this summer, he will have some dirt under his fingers that will help him fight at the state level. “I’ll be out there and I’ll do my hardest,” he said.
Gibbs’ interest in firefighting and emergency preparedness grew when he sponsored House Bill 1130, the bark beetle bill signed in May and designed to create a pilot program providing cost-share grants for community forest restorations projects. As he worked on the policy, he realized he would like to better understand the work at the ground level so he called the Colorado Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy in Alamosa to find out about training.They were shocked when he showed up, he laughed.”It was more or less boot camp of understanding the dynamics of wildfires,” Gibbs smiled, adding that chain of command, working as a team, overnight exercises, understanding fuels and weather patterns were all components of the training that even put him in the field digging trenches.He walked out with new knowledge and a desire to return for the next level of training in 2008.”We’re sitting on a potential situation,” he said before turning to Skulski, Williams and McDonald and adding. “I have tremendous respect for what you all are doing.”
Those at Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue are glad to have him. Williams said, “We live here. … It’s a real threat to us. The more hands the better.”From the experience, Gibbs already has a better grasp on what it takes to fight wildfires and the dynamics of emergency preparedness that will help him get resources where they are needed. Recently, he combined his new role with his role as a legislator by writing a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency supporting Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue’s grant application for additional equipment.”The Lake Dillon Fire District is in the middle of a catastrophic mountain pine beetle epidemic which is destroying over 90 percent of the lodgepole trees on both private and public lands,” he wrote. “This has raised the fire danger in their community to unprecedented levels. … Their request of an additional wildland vehicle will assist not only them, but the entire community and surrounding areas.”Lory Pounder can be reached at (970) 668-4628, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.