Officials reach compromise on fire protection

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— County and fire officials have reached a compromise on how to best protect firefighters, county residents and their homes from wildland fire.

Now they want the public to weigh in on their months of negotiation.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners and the Steamboat Springs Rural and Oak Creek fire protection districts are holding a public hearing tonight before they consider adopting a series of regulations and resolutions that will help fire protection districts do their job better.

County Manager Tom Sullivan said it's important that people show up to the meeting because community participation on the issue has been scarce.

"There hasn't been a lot of it," Sullivan said.

A long fire season prompted the county to look for ways to work more closely with fire districts to alleviate the risk of wildland fire to homes in rural areas.

One of those ways is giving fire districts permission to enforce regulations that enhance firefighters' ability to reach threatened homes more quickly.

"They need to be able to get to a fire," Sullivan said.

The Steamboat Springs Rural and Oak Creek fire protection districts have adopted the 1997 Fire Code, but state law does not allow fire protection districts to enforce their fire code without the county's permission.

The two fire protection districts can only require property owners to fireproof their homes and add fire escapes, fire alarms and other safety devices.

The districts encourage the use of sprinklers and fire retardant materials in home construction and the removal of brush and timber.

Under a proposed intergovernmental agreement, the county and Steamboat Springs and Oak Creek fire protection districts are considering adopting tonight, fire protection districts would have the authority to review building plans and approve or deny building applications that are not in compliance with the Fire Code.

Such an agreement is possible thanks to many hours of negotiation between the county and fire districts to balance property rights with public safety issues, Sullivan said.

The fire districts could only impose the Fire Code on new subdivisions within their boundaries, and people whose building applications were denied could present their case to a Board of Appeals appointed by the county commissioners.

Some of the fire protection districts in the county have yet to adopt the Fire Code. Full support could take some time because some fire districts do not have the manpower and resources to enforce the regulations.

The county is also looking at adopting road standards designed to give firefighters quicker access to residential areas.

Many of the roads that lead to homes within rural fire protection districts are steep and narrow.

The rough terrain presents serious challenges to emergency vehicles trying to reach endangered homes as quickly as possible.

The meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the county commissioners' hearing room.

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