Summit Fire says goodbye to 37-year firefighter Bruce Farrell
Summit Fire & EMS bid farewell to Deputy Chief Bruce Farrell last week, who retired after 37 years of service with fire and ambulance agencies in the county.
Farrell, 60, officially hung up his fire boots on Friday, Jan. 29, and plans to move to Arizona with his wife, Jennifer, to spend more time fishing, boating and traveling.
“I’ve been here for 37 years, and frankly it’s fun to look at doing something different, in some place new with a different view and a different environment,” Farrell said. “We’re just ready for a change.”
Farrell grew up in a small town called Poland in upstate New York, and studied history and education at The State University of New York at Fredonia. Despite his grandfather, father and brother all serving as firefighters, Farrell said it wasn’t until much later in life, after he’d moved to Summit County, that he first considered it as a career path.
He moved to the area in 1984, where he started working odd jobs, including working as a bus driver at Keystone Resort.
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“One of my coworkers, who was a volunteer firefighter at the Snake River Fire Department, suggested I join, that it was a fun way to get to know people,” Farrell said. “One night I was out doing loops in my little bus and saw a mini-pumper come into the resort, and a car spun out right in front of them. They swerved and missed it and ended up down an embankment. Over the course of the next hour I saw all these volunteers show up with those little dash lights on their cars. And I thought, ‘that looks like a lot of fun, I need to find out more about these guys.’ …
“(Firefighting) was in my family, but I didn’t realize I wanted to do it until I got here to Summit County. So maybe it was something I was destined for, and I just didn’t know it.”
Farrell joined the Snake River Fire Department as a volunteer in the summer of 1985. After making his way to volunteer lieutenant, he was hired full time as a department maintenance technician in 1991. He was later promoted to training division chief in 1993, and to assistant chief in 1997.
The Snake River Fire Department merged with Lake Dillon Fire Rescue in 2005 — the last in a “merger bug” that swept through the county in the 80s and 90s — and Farrell signed on as assistant chief of support services. He eventually worked his way up to deputy chief. He also served as a part-time member of the Summit County Ambulance Service, and later as a paramedic until 2004.
Farrell said he was drawn to the problem solving aspects of the job.
“What this business is all about is advanced problem solving,” Farrell said. “Sometimes it’s pretty straightforward, and sometimes not so much. … At the end of the day you have to make good decisions and do the best you can. To me it was always about being able to help people. Back in the Snake River days we used to have a motto: neighbors helping neighbors. That’s truly what it was. … You spend your days with a lot of good, caring people with a common goal. And when things aren’t going well, we make sure there’s somebody there to come help.”
In addition to his regular duties with the fire district, Farrell also served as a Type 3 plans chief with the Upper Colorado River Interagency Incident Management Team, and was an original member of the Northwest Colorado All-Hazards Incident Management Team. Among his more notable responses in incident management were the Buffalo Mountain Fire in 2018, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the Jefferson County floods in 2013.
As his retirement date approaches, Farrell said he feels fortunate to have worked in Summit County throughout his career, and for the unique opportunities it offers in the fire and EMS field.
“I thank my lucky stars I got to spend 35 years in a fire service in a model resort community, and not some urban setting where the issues would have been different,” Farrell said. “I doubt I’d get to remember doing EMS in a gondola car, or having to jump off a snowmobile to reset a fire alarm, or having to go out with our search and rescue guys up a trail to find an injured person.”
He also said he looks forward to seeing the district continue to evolve without him as a new generation of firefighters begin to take on more leadership and responsibilities.
“They say if you’re standing still you’re not progressing,” Farrell said. “Things are always moving in a good direction here, and I think that’s a tribute to all the people who have worked here over the years, and who are still working here. … I have great confidence that there are great stewards here that are ready to carry the mission forward.”
Farrell and his wife are planning to move to Page, Arizona, where they’ll trade in their mountain landscape for a view of Lake Powell, and get a chance to take the occasional trip down to Salt River Fields to watch the Colorado Rockies during spring training.
For his colleagues at Summit Fire & EMS, Farrell will be missed.
“As we continue to see some of our longer tenured members move on into retirement, their departure also brings to a close the end of an era in which they were some of the original architects for what this organization has become,” Summit Fire Chief Travis Davis said. “As a friend, coworker, and confidant, Bruce’s steady and consistent presence will be missed, and I wish him all the best in the next chapter.”
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