Jul 2, 2014 10:14 PM by Andy Koen

Stop! fire truck backing up

PUEBLO - At Station 6 on Pueblo's east side, firefighters have an unusual routine for parking their truck. When they approach the station from the west, they turn on the emergency lights and pull head-on into oncoming traffic on 4th Street before backing the engine into its bay.

Believe it or not, this approach is actually safer than backing in from the eastbound lanes of 4th where a hill at the intersection of La Crosse Avenue blocks the view of oncoming drivers.

It's a risky maneuver considering the traffic volume on this street. A search of C-DOT's Online Transportation Information System (OTIS) shows an average of 14,000 vehicles pass Engine 6's front door each day.

In the past, firefighters simply approached the station from the alley and pulled through the rear bay door. But as fire Chief Dale Villers explains, this new truck is just too big.

"The trucks are large enough that they have no other way to get in, they have to back up the ramps off of 4th Street," Villers said.

Fire trucks were smaller when the city built Station 6 decades ago and the alley approach was always suitable. Nowadays, big body trucks are the norm.

"We're carrying a lot more things on the trucks than we used to and they've just grown and gotten bigger," Villers said.

In fact, the city had to install a larger front bay door to allow for higher roof clearance. The new fire truck actually stands a few inches taller than when it was delivered thanks to a lift kit installed to keep the front bumper from scraping the street.

The firefighters at Station 6 can't control the traffic signals at La Crosse and have no emergency signals in front of their building to stop drivers as the truck enters and leaves.

The safety risks associated with current procedures have moved this fire house to the top of the list for replacement. Since the city doesn't have money to build a new station, the firefighters are asking the public directly for money.

"The last couple years have just been really frustrating with the staffing levels, the equipment levels, the training levels; everything that we're up against," said Damien Pritts, vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local Number 3.

The fire and police unions are petitioning voters for a ballot initiative to raise city sales taxes by 1/2 percent for the next five years. The projected $7 million in yearly revenue generated by the hike would be split between the two departments and pay for backlogged safety projects like Station 6.

Pritts adds that the money would also pay to fill vacant police and fire jobs frozen from years of budget cuts.

"This is just to get us back to the staffing levels of 2008," he explained. "We think in five years we can get our capital improvements done and we can get staffing up to where it needs to be."

The ballot language calls for a nine member oversight panel made up of three police officers, three firefighters and three citizens. City Council President Sandy Daff says she is concerned about that structure of financial accountability.

"To have an independent committee of non-elected folks take responsibility for taxpayer dollars, it's concerning to me," Daff said.

Pritts says the whole point of the oversight committee is to ensure the will of the voters is followed and that new tax money won't be siphoned into other city projects.

"This oversight committee is going to make sure that the money is being spent appropriately where it needs to be spent," he said.

While she recognizes the city's infrastructure needs, Daff doubts she can support this measure.

"In order for ballot initiatives like this to pass, you need to be very specific on what you intend to do with voter money," Daff said suggesting a project list might help the effort. "I don't know that this is specific enough for me to support."

Daff and other members of city council tinkered with their own ballot question that would have asked voters to share revenue raised by the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation 1/2 cent sales tax with the city for infrastructure projects.

She says that idea was abandoned after receiving negative feedback at a series of town hall meetings on the subject.

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