Silverthorne Town Council discusses long-awaited fire station with Summit Fire & EMS
SILVERTHORNE — At a meeting Wednesday, Silverthorne Town Council members questioned why Summit Fire & EMS does not have a timeline for a fire station in Silverthorne despite discussions about the project that began in 2006.
During the discussion, Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino explained that the organization is up for reassessment this year by Insurance Services Office, a company that will provide a “fire score” to the insurance companies of homeowners in the area. With the upcoming reassessment, the town faces the possibility of a lower rating because some areas in Silverthorne, such as Summit Sky Ranch, are more than 5 miles from the closest fire station in Dillon.
Berino said that when the company did its previous reassessment, it counted the Summit Fire administration building in Silverthorne as a station. The admin building since has been moved to Frisco, and Summit Fire sold the Silverthorne building as part of the Fourth Street Crossing development.
A temporary solution proposed was to find or build a structure to house an unmanned fire engine, which would satisfy the insurance requirement of a fire station. Berino said Summit Fire owns property at Cottonwood, north of Silverthorne Elementary School.
“We’d like to keep that as our future station site,” Berino said.
Council members were concerned that an unmanned fire station would satisfy the insurance requirement but not get the town a fully operational fire station.
“We would like a fire station in Silverthorne,” Berino said. “The property’s there. The money’s not.”
Deputy Chief Travis Davis gave a five-year snapshot of the number of calls Summit Fire receives. From 2015-2019, the total number of calls within town limits was 1,747. The total calls received by the Dillon Fire Station — which includes Dillon, Silverthorne and unincorporated areas like Heeney, Wildernest and Ptarmigan — was 5,098 in the same five-year period.
Council member Kevin McDonald said that based on the fact that there has been a lot of second homeowner development in Silverthorne in the last few years, which contributes tax money but doesn’t require as many services, the town should already be contributing to financial success for Summit Fire. Berino countered that the majority of the department’s call load is interstate and highway related rather than calls to individual homes.
The council then jumped into questions about a timeline for the proposed Silverthorne fire station.
“We want to understand where you are and what is the long-term plan,” Mayor Ann-Marie Sandquist said.
Berino said that in order to build a real fire station in Silverthorne, Summit Fire would need to put a mill levy on the ballot, either permanently or in the form of a bond to fund construction. Berino added that the department currently has $2.5 million in the bank, which would allow them to build an engine bay with a bathroom. A Summit Fire board member brought up that the move of the administration building from Silverthorne to Frisco depleted capital reserves and the department is currently working to build capital reserves back up.
“There’s no way we would have bought that building if we knew you were going to spend all the money in Frisco,” McDonald countered.
Berino pointed out that a new fire station is typically built if fire staff spends 25% of their time responding to calls. He said that currently the staff at the Dillon Fire Station, which services all of Silverthorne and the unincorporated areas surrounding the town, only spends about 5% of their time responding to calls.
Lori Miller, treasurer of Summit Fire & EMS, explained that while Summit Fire understands that council and the town want a fire station in Silverthorne, the department is not in a position to make promises.
“I know you want answers. I don’t think we can give that to you now,” Miller said.
Council member Michael Spry commented that although the department is more efficient in responding to calls due to the merger with Summit County Ambulance, a fire station is needed in Silverthorne due to the distance from the Dillon station and the traffic that occurs at the I-70 interchange.
“The story is we know it needs to be there so let’s get that work done,” Spry said. “We want to be able to go to our community and go: ‘there’s a plan.’”
“I can tell you that pretty much every Silverthorne resident is going to vote to get a fire station,” Sandquist added. “We want to understand what the issues are if we can help in some way, shape or form. We want to be able to do that because it should be a cooperative effort. We want to help solve this issue on a short-term and a long-term basis for our community.”
Summit Fire & EMS representatives said that in the short term, they could build the unmanned fire station. Council member Derrick Fowler asked Summit Fire how long they have been delayed when there’s a gridlock at the I-70 interchange. Davis said that delays due to interchange traffic are in the single-digit minutes and that on especially bad days, they will position a fire engine at the interchange.
Following the meeting, town manager Ryan Hyland explained that much of the frustration the town has with the lack of a nearby fire station is that the other Summit County towns don’t have the same issue.
“My understanding is that we are the only full-service municipality in Summit County with residents that are outside of a 5 mile response distance from a fire station, and we’re not talking about just a few households,” Hyland said in an email. “For instance, we have one entire subdivision that is outside of 5 miles, and that subdivision will have a total of 240 homes when fully built out a few years. Summit Fire & EMS has been expressing the need for a station in Silverthorne since at least 2006, and last night their board did commit to begin working on a more specific plan, which is a step in the right direction.”
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