Feb 28, 2014 7:42 PM by Andy Koen

Fire districts look to strengthen future cooperation

EL PASO COUNTY - There's a growing sense of regional cooperation among the fire districts of Northern El Paso County. Two of those districts, Black Forest Fire Rescue and Donald Wescott Fire Protection, are now looking at forming a new fire authority.

The neighboring fire districts have always been close.

"We have a very good mutual aid and automatic aid agreement and during the Black Forest Fire the working relationship was only cemented even stronger," said Black Forest Fire Chief Bob Harvey.

Under the authority, firefighters would be free to respond to emergencies in each other's districts without worrying about boundaries.

"This is something that's been discussed in this region for the last 25 years and it just seemed like it could never get over the hump on this," Harvey said.

Down the road, it could end up saving money.

"In essence, you're saving money by not having to duplicate big purchases, capital purchases," explained Donald Wescott Assistant Fire Chief Scott Ridings.

The authority would not be a full-on merger and each board will still manage its own budgets and personnel. However, representatives from each board would also serve on the fire authority board.

As talks continue, Wescott is already testing a new unit-based dispatching system.

"I like it," said assistant chief Ridings. "It allows me as the chief officer to utilize my resources into my plan that I have in place when I arrive on scene."

Eventually Black Forest Fire Rescue and the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District will also use the system, making communication between the three districts faster and easier.

Ridings says people calling 911 won't notice any changes in the way their call is handled.

"Really, what is changing is on the back side of that, which unit is going to the call."

Black Forest and Westcott can create the new authority by simple majority votes of their respective boards. However, they may delay action until after the Black Forest Fire Board elections in May.


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