Answering the call: Routt County firefighters receive grants

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— Spend a few minutes visiting with Brita Horn and it is clear she has plenty of energy to wear several hats.

She is the mother of two teenage girls, a South Routt County rancher, the Routt County treasurer and chief of the Rock Creek Volunteer Fire Department. The department is in Eagle County near the Routt County line and is an unpaid volunteer department.

“All anybody gets in my department is the T-shirt I order,” Horn said.

Answering the call

As the West Routt Fire Protection District seeks more funding from taxpayers, departments across the country struggle to fill their ranks. Local officials say that not only do low staffing levels put their firefighters at risk, they also increase response times, putting lives and property at risk.

Horn also is the volunteer section chief for the Colorado State Fire Chiefs. In that role, she works to help develop volunteer recruiting and retention tools for Colorado’s fire departments.

“I don’t think any department is not feeling the crunch,” Horn said.

Colorado State Fire Chiefs along with the Colorado State Firefighters Association earlier this year learned they had received two federal grants worth $3.3 million to address retention and recruitment problems.

Throughout the next four years, $880,600 of that money will be used to host eight workshops directed to help retain and recruit volunteer emergency responders.

The second grant, $2.48 million to be spent throughout several years, will benefit three Routt County residents through a tuition-reimbursement program.

Each of the three residents found out last week that they were one of 28 people awarded $5,000 to attend any school in Colorado. In exchange, those awarded the money must commit to a fire department for two years.

Theresa Kelliher, who has been with the Oak Creek department for 15 years, plans to use the money to help pay for her second year of nursing school at Colorado Northwestern Community College.

“Right now, I’ve taken out loans to pay for school, so this will definitely help,” Kelliher said. “I hope to increase my skills. Hopefully, that will help the department.”

Yampa firefighter Adam Grasty will use the money toward his education in law enforcement.

The grants also can be given to a family member of the person making the two-year commitment.

Tom Wisecup will use the money to help pay for his daughter’s education at Colorado Mesa University.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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