Mar 15, 2014 12:10 AM by Tony Spehar

Chief says Falcon Fire Protection District crew was ordered to sheriff commander's home

Questions remain about whether an El Paso County Sheriff's Office command staff member's home was given preferential treatment by firefighters during the first day and night of the June 2013 Black Forest Fire.

A report released on Friday by third party investigator Dave Fisher claimed that two fire trucks and crews were sent specifically to defend the home of then El Paso County Emergency Services Commander Robert McDonald. Fisher stated that the order to specifically protect McDonald's home came from Incident Commander Scott Campbell who was serving under McDonald and Sheriff Terry Maketa.

The report states that members of the Falcon Fire Protection District were among those ordered to McDonald's home after surviving a dangerous burn over in the surrounding area.

"When the fire first rolled into the Sylvan Meadows area I understand that it was pretty intense and that they did pull out of that area during the fire burn over," described current Falcon Fire Chief Trent Harwig.

Chief Harwig said the first he heard about members of his district being sent to the McDonald home when they were questioned by the third party investigators. He confirmed that the crew members said they were ordered to McDonald's address.

"They said that they were specifically assigned to that address," he explained. "But them and us, even today, we don't know why or what the reason for that was."

On Friday afternoon Sheriff Maketa denounced the investigation's findings, calling the report "garbage." Maketa said it was his understanding firefighters weren't sent to McDonald's home specifically, but pointed out the home made for a good defensive position for fire crews to protect homes in the neighborhood.

"Mr. McDonald's home was well mitigated, firefighters are going to set up where they're safe," Maketa said during a press conference. "They're not going to go into a thick patch of timber."

Chief Harwig said it was possible McDonald's home was chosen as a good safety zone for defending the entire neighborhood, but because the order came from incident commanders Falcon Fire has no records of what the orders to their crew members were.

Harwig said he hoped more answers about what exactly happened during the first days of the fire would be forthcoming. But, he also said it was important for people to look to the future and be assured that despite bitter differences over the fire all emergency responders would work together should the worst happen again.

"It's important that the citizens know that if another major event happens, that the relationship between the fire districts and the sheriff's office is still a good one and we trust that system will work," Harwig affirmed.



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