Summit Fire considers new Silverthorne station as population grows
SILVERTHORNE — Summit Fire and EMS is planning for the future.
The fire district recently completed a move to its new administration building at the County Commons in Frisco, and with the merger between Summit Fire and the Summit County Ambulance Service set to be completed in January, the district is considering its next big move: a new fire station in Silverthorne.
Following Summit Fire’s departure from its Silverthorne administration building in July, officials with the district said there were concerns raised among residents in the area that fire and ambulance response times might be impacted. The station hadn’t been used for emergency response since the early 2000s, so those concerns were largely unfounded.
“That station was built for volunteer firefighters with the old Silverthorne Fire District in the 1970s,” Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino said. “We haven’t used it for responses for 17 years because — after a series of mergers with other small fire departments in Dillon, Dillon Valley and Keystone — it just didn’t make financial or tactical sense to staff it with a 24/7 firefighter crew with the Dillon station 1 1/2 miles away. For years now, we’ve been dispatching the firefighters from our Station 8 in Dillon to calls in Silverthorne and farther north.”
Still, as the population continues to grow in the north part of the county, officials believe a new station in the area will become a necessity in the future. According to Steve Lipsher, spokesman with Summit Fire and EMS, a new Silverthorne station was identified as part of the district’s long-range strategic plan.
The district already owns a piece of land at the north end of Silverthorne, and discussions are underway with Silverthorne about the potential of a land swap that would allow Summit Fire to build a new station at Smith Ranch, near the Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church.
“Right now, we are adequately meeting the industry response-time standards by handling calls from Dillon, but we recognize there will be a need for a new station down the line,” Berino said.
Of course, the biggest obstacle in the district’s way is funding. Construction alone for the new station could cost in excess of $6 million in addition to $1 million to supply the station with new engines and equipment, and another $1 million annually for staffing.
The county’s fire districts are funded through residential property taxes, and Lipsher said further development and rising property values expected in the future will help to fund the new station. But it’s also possible Summit Fire has to again turn to voters for additional funds.
“It may well be that down the line we have to ask voters for additional revenues,” Lipsher said. “For us, that typically means asking the voters for an increase in the mill levy.”
Lipsher emphasized that the project is very much in its infancy — with no set timeline or target date for construction — and any potential ballot measures to increase mill levies aren’t being looked at anytime soon. Of note, voters approved a ballot measure in November 2018 to help address dwindling budgets for the county’s fire districts as a result of the Gallagher Amendment.
In the meantime, Summit Fire is hoping to put the minds of worried Silverthorne residents at ease and assure individuals in the area of their capabilities to respond to emergencies quickly.
Berino noted that even on days with heavy traffic, or when snow on the interstate delays getting to scenes of emergencies, the district works with Silverthorne and Dillon police to create pathways for emergency vehicles. Additionally, Summit Fire often stages emergency crews on the north side of Interstate 70 during difficult driving conditions.
“I understand the concerns, but being a citizen who lives up here, I can sleep well at night knowing that they can get here in a timely fashion,” said Lori Miller, an elected board member for the district and Mesa Cortina resident. “We’ve met the challenges and the call load, but we know there will be a need for a new station in the future, and we’re planning for that.”
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