Summit fire veteran dies
BRECKENRIDGE – The firefighting community in Summit County lost one of its own Tuesday.
Flags are at half-staff this week for Barrie Niebergall, a 24-year veteran of Summit County fire departments, most recently the Red, White and Blue (RWB).
County Coroner Joanne Richardson and RWB public information officer Kim O’Brien said a fellow firefighter found Niebergall, a firefighter and driver-operator, in the exercise room of the RWB north station near Tiger Road about 11 Tuesday night. Despite the efforts of paramedics, he was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. He was 56, O’Brien said.
The cause of his death is under investigation pending an autopsy. Memorial services are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Summit High School.
Lake Dillon Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Berino would have worked with Niebergall for 24 years next week.
“We kind of grew up together in the fire service,” Berino said. “But he always let me know he joined a week before I did.”
Niebergall started his firefighting career in Frisco as a volunteer in 1980. He achieved status as lieutenant and was hired by the fire department in 1988, then became a part of the Lake Dillon Fire Authority when the districts consolidated in 1995.
Niebergall worked on and off as a volunteer at Copper Mountain from 1998 to 2002, and worked as a maintenance contractor after that. He has worked for RWB since 2002.
He also worked as a fire apparatus consultant. He held numerous state firefighting, driver-operator and emergency medicine certificates, and sat on a committee that wrote tests for driver-operators on the national level.
Through the years, he was a firefighter, lieutenant, battalion captain and engineer. But most of all, his fellow firefighters said, he loved driving the trucks.
“When he was driving the trucks, he was loving life,” said Lake Dillon Fire Chief Francis Winston. “He was a hands-on kind of guy. He was very dedicated to the fire service; he believed in it passionately.”
“You could always tell when it was a bad day,” Berino said. “He’d be working on the vehicles and wearing a red bandana. If he was wearing that red bandana, it meant, ‘Stay away.’ He guarded (the trucks) well; they were all his.”
Niebergall was known throughout the state for his vast knowledge of fire apparatus.
“We never even started to tap the amount of knowledge in his head,” said RWB driver-operator Jason Kline. “I’ll remember him because he was a great guy for the community, and for the number of people he touched.”
“All the engineers turned to him,” O’Brien said. “He knew every part of his job inside out, and then some. We’ll never be able to replace him.”
“Ninety-nine percent of the firefighters around today learned under him: apprentice, driver, engineer,” said Steve Skulski, who graduated Colorado Mountain College in 1991 with Niebergall. “He had his moments, but once you were able to deal with his ‘Barrie-isms,’ get to know him one-on-one, he would go through hell for you, and you’d probably do the same for him.”
None who knew him omitted talking about Niebergall’s biting sense of humor – much of which can’t be repeated in print.
His “Barrie-isms,” ranged from handing out nicknames to his sharp retorts when joking with friends.
“He was one in a million,” O’Brien said. “He was an example to every firefighter; he embodied what a true firefighter is. He leaves behind a big hole in our hearts. This is a huge loss to the community.”
“Many of us in this county owe much of our careers to Barrie,” said RWB Chief Gary Green. “The skills and knowledge he shared as well as the passion for this job, will be carried forward in each of us.”
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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