Colorado Fires

Dec 2, 2013 11:43 PM by Zach Thaxton

Independent investigator to look into Chief's handling of Black Forest Fire

An independent investigator will be hired to look into claims by El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa that Black Forest Fire Rescue Protection District Chief Bob Harvey mishandled the initial response to June's Black Forest Fire.  The announcement Monday night by the District's Board of Directors comes in the wake of scathing public criticism in social and broadcast media by Maketa, who claimed that Harvey mishandled the crucial first minutes and hours of the fire response in such a way that resulted in lost homes and a threat to citizens' safety.

At the beginning of Monday's meeting, the District's Captain, Larry Bell, read a prepared statement throwing the support of him, his lieutenants, and rank-and-file firefighters and EMTs behind Chief Harvey, saying, "We believe that if it weren't for his leadership and actions, the outcome of this fire would have been much worse."  The statement further said, in part, that the "accusers," including Sheriff Maketa, "have misrepresented the truth about this incident for their own benefit."

Following a nearly 90-minute closed-door executive session with the District's attorney, the Board emerged and delivered a statement of its own saying that while the Board members have "complete confidence" in Chief Harvey, they will hire an objective outside investigator to examine communications and records during the initial stages of the fire to "find out what happened" and determine whether Sheriff Maketa's claims are valid.

Many in Black Forest don't want to wait for the results of an investigation and are calling on Chief Harvey to resign or be fired.  Petitions are being circulated calling for Harvey's immediate removal as Chief.  "I wish he'd resign and save all the taxpayers a boatload of money," said Black Forest resident Picker Munson.  "For Sheriff Maketa to come out and say what he said, I don't know why he would come out and be lying.  I stand behind him way before I'd stand behind the Chief."  Others, however, support Harvey and want to hear the results of the investigation.  "I think when they get the legal things out so people hear the other story, they might decide that people are a little upset about the wrong things," said resident Carolyn Brown, who supports Chief Harvey.

When asked about a timeframe for completion of the independent investigation, the Board of Directors declined to be specific, but did say they hope to have it completed within 30 days.  The board also said more specific information regarding the investigation would be revealed within a few days.

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