The Bond and McCoy communities in rural Eagle County are a good 40 minutes away from any emergency services provider.
That point was driven home in early November for McCoy resident Cass Galloway. Her home was the nearest house for a construction worker to flee to after he was burned by a gas flashback while installing a new hot water heater at the McCoy Community Center.
The injured man - who was burned on his hands, hair and face - came driving down Galloway's driveway, blaring his truck horn and yelling, "I need to go to the hospital!"
Fortunately, Galloway, who is a pre-school teacher, had some first-aid training. She pushed the man into the shower to get the heat off the burn, while her husband fetched a couple of neighbors trained to respond to emergencies. They administered first aid to the victim (an Oak Creek man who is now doing well) for nearly 40 minutes before the 911 responders were able to reach the scene.
Stories such as Galloway's are the reason why the community decided last spring to re-start the local volunteer fire department. It's an effort that got derailed a couple of years ago in an acrimonious local political dispute.
There have been other incidents that point out the need for a quicker emergency response. Galloway recalls the time when somebody with an irregular heart beat keeled over during a church service. It took 40 minutes for a distant fire department to reach the scene.
As is the habit of the residents of this rural community on the northern edge of the county, people have set aside their political differences in the interest of improving service to the community.
"The sooner we can get to somebody, the better chance they have," says Jim Matlock, a retired railroader and president of the Rock Creek Fire Board of Directors.
"I hope it works this time. We're going to give it a whirl," he adds.
"I think it's pretty fantastic that we're doing it," she says.
New name, new game plan
Fire Chief Brita Horn, a longtime local and trained emergency medical technician, is leading the group of volunteers. In an effort to distance themselves from their political past, the department (formerly the Bond/McCoy Fire Department) has a new name: Rock Creek Fire. They also have a Web site: www.eaglevalley.net/rockcreekfire.
Rock Creek Fire is the only all-volunteer fire department in the county. The group intends to work on a mutual aid basis with emergency service agencies in Eagle, Routt and Grand counties, as well as with federal and state agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and BLM.
"I think they're going to do fine up there. Brita knows her people, and knows how to do the training," says Fire Chief Jon Asper of the Greater Eagle Fire Protection District. His department will continue to provide mutual aid support and back up the Rock Creek group on calls when such services are needed.
The Rock Creek volunteers have already completed 40 hours of training, including CPR classes. They've also learned to use radios.
The group has formalized its nonprofit status, and will start pursuing formation of a special taxing district in January. Horn says the district, if approved, would encompass 244 square miles (the Colorado River Watershed extending west from Radium to the Burns area); and would serve an estimated permanent population of 304 people. The district boundaries will bump up against the Greater Eagle and Gypsum Fire District boundaries.
Joe Kelso of Radium is one of the newly recruited volunteers. He's been a river rafting outfitter for 35 years. That line of work prompted him to get involved with Rock Creek Fire.
"I wanted more knowledge and resources available to me. ... I wanted some idea on who and what was coming if I did have to call for help," he says.
The department's intent is to keep the training ongoing, and expanding into areas such as wilderness first responder and wildfire training, he said.
Both Matlock and Kelso noted that Highway 131, extending north from Wolcott, generates plenty of emergency calls.
"It's a nasty, windy road. People drive it too fast. ... There's deer on the road," Kelso says.
Rock Creek Fire already has assets - a building and a couple of emergency response vehicles, donated by private citizens and other agencies.
Horn, who is also an engineer with the Gypsum Fire Department, notes that support is coming from throughout the community. Most recently, the Union Pacific Railroad gave the Rock Creek department permission to use the railroad's fire hydrants, pond and fire pump.
She admits that she catches a bit of good-natured joshing when she attends meetings with the chiefs of other, bigger fire districts.
But she has an answer to that, first stated by Teddy Roosevelt.
"Do what you can, where you are, with what you have," Horn says. "Keep it simple. That's what we're doing."