Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs Fire Department had a decrease in calls in 2001, the first time in four years the number of calls has declined.
Last year, the department responded to 610 fire calls, down 13 calls as compared to the record 623 firefighters responded to in 2000. Calls include motor vehicle accidents and other emergencies in addition to fires.
Despite the drop, the number of calls in 2001 was still nearly 25 percent higher than the number of calls just two years ago.
"We had a lot of structure fires in January and February, but after that it just died down," Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble said of 2001.
Struble said two types of emergency calls decreased dramatically last year
wildland fires and accidents on Rabbit Ears Pass.
The department responded to just two wildland fire calls last year. The average is 15, Struble said. Traffic accidents on Rabbit Ears Pass also decreased, he said.
"If those two categories would have been normal, we would have had another record year," Struble said.
Since 1988, calls at the fire department have steadily increased, peaking in 2000.
Struble said steady increase in calls is a direct result of the growth the area has experienced.
"Right now, we are trying to catch up from the past 10 years of growth," Struble said.
In 1988, the department averaged one fire call every 40 hours. Last year, the average was one call every 17 hours.
The department projects calls will continue to increase in the next eight years. By 2009, the department expects to respond to a call every eight hours. To meet that volume, the department is implementing its long-term plan.
At the beginning of this year, the department hired three full-time firefighters and three full-time paramedics.
Prior to this year, Struble, Fire Marshall Jay Muhme, Inspector Jim Cooley, Technician Rick Bouchard and Education Officer Jacqui Campbell were the only full-time employees within the department, which had 28 volunteer firefighters.
"There is a lot of change happening right now," Struble said. "We are headed in the right direction in providing the level of service this community deserves."
The full-time employees will help the department improve its response time to calls in Steamboat and within the rural district, Struble said.
By having paid personnel on duty, Struble said response time to a downtown call should take two minutes, which is a three-minute improvement.
Later this year, the department plans to expand its fire station at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area so that an ambulance can be housed inside the station.
A majority of the department's ambulance calls in the winter happen at the mountain.
Struble said the ambulance at the station will improve response time in the area.
Also on the horizon for the department is a new fire station to serve areas south of Steamboat Springs. Struble said the city has plans to build a fire station in the Lake Catamount area in 2004.
The city also has plans to build a new public safety building west of Steamboat Springs in 2007.
Because of the new full-time positions, the department consists of 21 volunteers and four candidates who are working toward active fire duty.