Feb 20, 2014 1:46 AM by Andy Koen

Community split over fire report findings

EL PASO COUNTY - The release of the executive summary of a report by an independent investigator looking into the emergency response to the Black Forest Fire brought out strong emotions from people in the community.

Those who support Fire Chief Bob Harvey were bolstered by the findings that he acted appropriately in the early hours of the crisis. Meanwhile, his critics doubt the sincerity of the investigators' efforts.

The findings were no surprise to Kelsey Brown. Chief Harvey is her dad and Brown said she knew from the start that his name would be cleared.

"This was completely, like the report said, unfounded," Brown said of the criticism leveled against her dad. "I think the truth has set everyone free and hopefully people can focus on work now."

Other Harvey family members say the chief's reputation has been put through the wringer in the past few months after El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa blasted the chief for keeping control of the emergency response longer than was necessary.

"It's been hard on his children," said Jacki Veigel. "It's been hard on his wife and it's been hard on him."

They question the need to spend time and money investigating the chief just to prove his innocence.

At Wednesday night's meeting of the Black Forest Fire and Rescue Board, the chief's critics also questioned why money was spent on what they believe was a foregone conclusion.

"I think the investigator was hired, according to the board's earlier statement, to clear Harvey," said Elizabeth Brannan. "I don't think it was truly to find out if there was wrong doing."

Brannan is one of many community members who signed a petition calling on the board to fire the chief. She says their sheets of signatures were tossed in the trash.

The board and investigator Dave Fisher maintain the appraisal was unbiased. In fact, Harvey and Fisher both said the met for the first time after Fisher was already hired by the board.

Fire victim Darrell Fortner didn't think that a paid consultant could give a truly independent analysis.

"I think they made up a bunch of baloney," he said.

It is an election year and three seats are in play on the Black Forest Fire and Rescue Board. On Thursday at 4:30 p.m., a group of candidates who opposes the current board are planning to announce their campaigns.

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