Feb 19, 2014 4:12 PM by Maddie Garrett
BLACK FOREST, Colo - The Black Forest Fire/Rescue Protection District released an executive summary Wednesday outlining the findings of an independent investigation into the response to the Black Forest Fire. The investigation was sparked by allegations that Fire Chief Bob Harvey did not properly handle the initial fire response, did not turn command over fast enough to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office and even turned away resources.
The investigation, conducted by retired Police Commander David Fisher, found that Chief Harvey committed no professional misconduct and did not refuse resources in responding to the Black Forest Fire. The eight page summary also stated that Harvey verbally turned command over to the Sheriff's office two hours after the initial fire call. That timing is something Sheriff Terry Maketa has disputed.
The entire report is more than 80 pages and will not be released to the public until after the District Attorney's Office has had a chance to review the report. The Fire District said they are delaying the public release to allow the D.A.'s office to make public portions of the report which do not involve privacy issues and will not interfere with a possible criminal case.
Some fire victims felt that the full report should be released sooner, saying it was paid for with tax payer dollars and they are anxious to read it in full. Rozanne David said after the meeting that she is happy to get more information on the fire, but feels the report may not be truly objective because the investigator was hired by the Fire District.
In a statement from Board Chairman Ed Bracken, the Board called the allegations and investigation a "misadventure."
Bracken said, "The investigation established firmly that there was no professional misconduct on the part of the Chief, and affirms his leadership abilities. It reinforced in a major way, the courage and resilience of our firefighters."
Bracken went on to criticize Sheriff Maketa and said he made "unsubstantiated allegations about our Chief's performance following the onset of the Black Forest fire."
However, Harvey would not comment on camera after the meeting, only saying he was happy to hear the findings of the investigation.
Harvey nor the Board has ever addressed Harvey's initial statement he made publicly that he believed the fire was intentionally set. Harvey has yet to confirm that statement or retract it since he stopped conducting media interviews in late November 2013.
The report summary did address some deficiencies in the response though, including the fact that Harvey did not have proper radios and communication at the onset of the fire. The investigation made these suggestions as well:
- Command staff should be equipped with maps of the relevant areas to provide outside agencies.
- More refined response plan and better communications with neighboring agencies.
- The resources of nearby agencies should be incorporated quicker, which may be required sooner, particularly in response to red flag days.
- More than one staging area should be utilized in larger events.
- Fire Districts should work with law enforcement to close down streets and conduct evacuations if need be, and communicate accordingly.
- All agencies and their personnel must be able to work together and maintain a professional relationship regardless of personal feelings.
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