Medical, fire calls strain Routt County resources
April 4, 2012
Steamboat Springs — A woman having a seizure at Walmart waited an extra 20 minutes for an ambulance Wednesday because firefighters were slammed with other calls, including two controlled burns that got out of control and turned into wildfires.
"Had it not been for a controlled burn turning into an uncontrolled burn, we wouldn't have been in that situation," Steamboat Springs Public Safety Director Joel Rae said.
Routt County now has seen eight wildfires in recent weeks that have started after controlled burns got out of control, but Wednesday presented unusual challenges for emergency responders.
At one point while waiting for an ambulance to arrive from Hayden, police on scene with the sick woman considered having the woman taken to Yampa Valley Medical Center via a shuttle typically used by skiers who have minor injuries and need a ride to the hospital. Sgt. Rich Brown said they learned it would not be necessary. Steamboat firefighters nearly were done taking an injured skier to YVMC and would be able to respond before the Hayden ambulance.
Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Lt. Travis Wilkinson said the Steamboat ambulance was on its way to the woman having a seizure 21 minutes after the call came in.
"Usually, we try to be en route within one minute of a call," he said.
The woman who had the seizure ended up refusing medical treatment, and firefighters resumed their busy day.
It started at 10:45 a.m. when Steamboat firefighters were called to 23955 Fawn Creek Road, which is west of Steamboat along Routt County Road 46. A controlled burn had gotten out of control, and the homeowner reported that 12- to 15-foot-tall flames were running up the hill toward a home. Seven Steamboat firefighters including one who was off duty responded to the fire that burned two acres.
At 11:30 a.m., two firefighters responded to Steamboat Ski Area for a skier with a head injury.
Five minutes later, Steamboat Fire Rescue was called to another wildfire in its district at 21670 W. Whitewood Drive. Three off-duty Steamboat firefighters responded to the two-acre fire with help from an Oak Creek Fire Protection District crew.
Wilkinson said he called West Routt for help when Steamboat's emergency response resources were depleted. He said that as the request for help was going out, the call about the seizing woman came in at 11:49 a.m.
"We got that additional call that stretched us beyond our capabilities," Wilkinson said.
Four or five simultaneous calls are rare, but Rae said they do occur. With a string of wildfires recently, he urged landowners not to do controlled burns right now because of dry conditions.
"These people need to realize that this is not a typical year," Rae said. "We've had wildfire after wildfire."
Routt County Emergency Management Director Bob Struble said that the criteria still has not been met to enact a fire ban or fire restrictions but that he is concerned the wildfires are occurring despite all the information that has been given to landowners.
"Only burn what you can control," Struble said.
He said people also should call Routt County Communications at 970-879-1090 before conducting a burn, only burn in the morning and carefully check the weather.
The National Weather Service in Grand Junction has issued a red flag warning for the fire weather conditions expected to exist from noon to 8 p.m. today.
Temperatures are expected to reach the upper 60s, humidity is expected to be below 15 percent and winds are forecast to be 15 to 25 miles per hour with gusts exceeding 40 miles per hour.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com