Routt County In the near future, the only professional hat Chuck Vale will be wearing is one that says, "Routt County Emergency Manager."
Vale has split time for the last 10 years as the public safety director at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and as the emergency manager for the county. But because of increasing pressures brought on by population growth, as well as some added emergency responsibilities on the horizon for the county, officials decided to make both positions full time.
"I was given the opportunity to go either way," Vale said. He jumped at the opportunity to be the full-time emergency manager.
"Chuck has been wearing a couple of hats," County Commissioner Dan Ellison said. "I think what we have seen is that, to try to deal with county emergency management, that it takes more time."
As emergency manager, one of Vale's jobs is to coordinate the services of the five fire districts in the county, as well as airport fire crews, Steamboat ambulance, the U.S. Forest Service, Routt County Search and Rescue, the Colorado State Patrol and emergency response teams from across county lines.
"It's really a difficult thing to get everyone in the same direction," Vale said.
A forest fire on Lynx Pass in May that burned about 90 acres highlighted Vale and other county officials' contention that coordinating all the agencies is a full-time job.
The Lynx Pass fire required resources from all the fire-fighting agencies in the county. The blaze also threatened to burn into the nearby national forest, which gave officials a glimpse of what type of effort and communication would be needed if a disaster was to hit the county.
Now Vale will have more time focus his energy on that.
Sheriff John Warner is thrilled with the move because it takes pressure off his stretched staff and opens up more opportunities to fight fire before it happens.
State statutes mandate the responsibility of fighting wildland fires to the county sheriff. When a blaze occurs in Routt County, fire districts are contracted out by Warner because his department doesn't have fire equipment.
Warner says that is the most economical way to do it.
"Chuck has played a big role in that; he's basically managed it for me," Warner said.
With Vale taking the position full time, he can secure those cooperative agreements as well as help the sheriff's department prevent fire, instead of just responding.
"There's so many things on the proactive side that we can't do alone," Warner said.
Vale wants to work on accessible water supplies in rural areas, road widening and creating defensible spaces around rural homes that are built in the forest.
"Now I have some mobility to mitigate some of those issues," Vale said.
In addition to the growing commitment to prevent and fight wildfires, the county's responsibilities for hazardous- material cleanup have increased, too.
Right now, there is not a hazardous materials crew in Routt County. But, with increasing truck traffic, the risk of toxic spills grows, Ellison said.
"You need someone to run that sort of thing," Ellison said.
One of Vale's first responsibilities is to organize a Routt County hazardous materials, or haz-mat, team.
Until a public safety director at Yampa Valley Regional Airport is hired and trained, Vale will still split his time time.
Though optimistic about the change, the reality of Vale's new job hasn't sunk in yet.
"My perspective, I'm so busy with wildfires right now that I haven't thought too much about it," he said.
To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org