Seminar to stress fire safety

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— The last thing John and Barb Shipley dreamed of when they retired for the evening on Aug. 27 was that before the night was out, 16 guests in their care would be evacuated from a burning building. But that's just what happened, and Barb Shipley shudders to think of what might have occurred hadn't all the fire safety systems in place at The Ridge townhomes worked to perfection.

"When we crested a hill and saw the flames," Barb said, "that's when you all of a sudden realize you think that everything in life that's bad happens to the other guy. But that's not the way it is. Fortunately everything worked the way it was supposed to."

Making certain that everything works the way it's supposed to when bad things happen is the focus of the second annual Community Safety Awareness Seminar, Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. until noon at Olympian Hall. Key personnel from law enforcement, the fire department and emergency medical services will participate in a program designed especially for resort property managers, innkeepers and their employees, said Jim Cooley, city of Steamboat Springs fire inspector.

"This developed out of a need to hand out fire education material, now it has spread out to all of the public safety services," Cooley said.

The fire that consumed two units at The Ridge has been confirmed as an arson and a suspect is in custody. But the main thing on the minds of the Shipleys as they drove to the scene from their rural Steamboat home was the safety of 16 people staying in various units at The Ridge. Fortunately, by the time the Shipleys arrived at the fire on Storm Meadows Drive, all of their guests were gathered safely on the street, watching the flames. The first thing Barb did was get her hands on the keys to replacement rooms for her guests.

Shipley says she's learned from the fire that it's critical to plan ahead for emergencies, even if you're certain they will never happen to you.

"It's imperative all of us know how we'd react," Shipley said. "You have to make sure your alarms are checked, your extinguishers are checked, you've updated your insurance. We're tightening up who gets in and out of the units. This is a reminder that we need to be on top of all of this."

Shipley said hers is among the smallest property management companies in town. But even though she and her husband are working owners of their company, they had to rely on other professionals to save their guests when the fire broke out. The heat-sensitive fire alarms in the building functioned as they were intended and quickly notified Western Security, which in turn alerted the fire department and Security Plus. An officer from security plus banged on doors and helped evacuate the occupants.

Shipley said the sheer loudness and persistence of the fire alarms in the building may have saved lives. The alarms were loud enough to wake other people in the neighborhood, but she knows some of her guests spent the first four or five minutes trying in vain to disable them so they could go back to sleep.

On hand at the seminar will be Routt County Sheriff John Warner, ambulance director Mel Stewart and Assistant City of Steamboat Police Chief Art Fiebing.

Fiebing said Steamboat's innkeepers and hotel managers could do their guests a favor and salvage some vacations in the process by letting them know the local police department doesn't show leniency in cases of drinking and driving, and domestic violence.

"Although this is a resort community, and we want everyone to have fun on vacation, we don't cut anyone any slack on DUIs," Fiebing said. "Sometimes people think this is a party town, but we don't give people rides home (if they are stopped for drinking and driving), we give them rides to jail. The police department is not part of any tourist agency."

When it comes to domestic disputes, the disparity between how cases are handled in other states and how they are handled in Colorado cities can come as a shock to some people, Fiebing said.

"Some states separate and mediate. We don't," Fiebing said. "We take domestic cases very seriously because of their potential to escalate."

Innkeepers who encounter guests in the midst of a shouting match might consider letting them know that if it goes further, someone could go to jail without a chance to bond out on the spot.

In Colorado and in Steamboat, Fiebing explained, if an officer finds probable cause that a crime of violence was committed, the suspect goes to jail and remains there until the next opportunity to come before a judge and have bond set.

"If love goes bad on a Friday night, you go to jail and you don't get out until Monday," Fiebing said. "I would think that would be at the top of the list on how to ruin a vacation," Fiebing said. "If you want to come on vacation and leave on probation, that's one way to do it."

Fiebing can't believe how many people let down their guard with regard to protecting personal property when vacationing in Steamboat. Vacationers often act mystified when their skis, jewelry, cameras and cash are stolen from unlocked cars.

"If I had a nickel for everyone who said, 'I can't believe this could happen in Steamboat,' I'd be retired today," he said.

The assistant chief doesn't get to retire anytime soon, but he's available to dispense advice at the seminar.

To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail tomross@amigo.net

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