Fire Council could change contract

Officials hopeful each of districts will sign MOU by March

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— The agreement that binds the five fire districts in Routt County to fight wildland fires is proposed to undergo changes that could impact the county's sheriff.

Members of the Routt County Wildland Fire Council are proposing changes in the Memorandum of Understanding that could impact Sheriff John Warner's role in how county wildland fires are managed.

A number of changes to the MOU are being proposed as Routt County officials and representatives of the Oak Creek, Steamboat Springs, Yampa and West and North Routt fire protection districts map out a plan for the upcoming wildland fire season.

County officials are hopeful each of the fire districts, along with the state and U.S. forest services, will sign the MOU by March.

The agreement between the county and the fire districts and the state and federal agencies map out how each district is to respond to a wildland fire.

Last year, Steamboat Springs did not sign the county's MOU and are proposing changes that could impact the sheriff's office.

Steamboat Springs Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble questions the sheriff's role on the fire council and his ability to delegate manpower and resources for a wildland fire.

Struble is proposing that the sheriff not have a vote on the wildland council.

Currently, Sheriff Warner votes on decisions made by the wildland council, which serves as an advisory board to the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

Some members of the fire council are taking the position the sheriff's office should not be voting on recommendations made by the council to the county because the sheriff is part of county government.

Struble also is requesting that the MOU outline that decisions during a wildland fire be made by the fire's incident commander and not by the sheriff.

"The people who make these decisions need to have a fire background," Struble said. "The sheriff doesn't have it. I see him more as a resource."

The sheriff is caught up in the wildland fire issue because of state statute.

According to state statute, the sheriff "is to act as the fire warden and assume charge of or assist other governmental authorities in efforts to control and extinguish" wildland fires.

The changes that have been proposed will be reviewed by Routt County Attorney John Merrill. He will review whether the sheriff has a statutory obligation to be apart of the council and what power he has to make decisions.

Other changes to the MOU, which has been amended three times since 1992, involve reimbursement for manpower and equipment.

Because the county sheriff is obligated to suppress wildland fires, the county reimburses the fire districts for their cost to fight the blaze.

Oak Creek Fire Chief Chuck Wisecup is proposing the MOU be clarified that the county will pay for wildland fire suppression regardless if it is within a municipality's city limits.

At this time, the county will not reimburse fire districts for wildland fires that occur within a municipality's city limits.

Another change is clarifying what fire districts are eligible to be reimbursed for. Wisecup said the document should include administrative and investigation costs, along with the actual costs associated with fighting the fire.

The fire council is also proposing the county examine its reimbursement rates for equipment used in a wildland fire.

Chuck Vale, county director of emergency services, is hopeful changes that are being requested can be determined by the end of the month.

Also expected to be completed at the end of the month is an inventory list of each fire district's equipment and manpower.

The fire districts are being asked by the council what equipment and how many firefighters each district uses when it responds to a wildland fire.

With this information,

the council is hopeful it can identify where equipment and manpower are needed within the county.

Wildland fires have become an issue for the county because they have been on the rise. In 1999, the county had 44 fires. In 2000, the number jumped to more than 100. Last year, the county dealt with 93.

All of the fire districts signed the MOU last year. Steamboat did not because it felt the county's budget did not support its efforts to fight wildland fires.

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