As demands mount, Golden Fire to explore possible merger

City could join forces with Fairmount and Pleasant View

Paul Albani-Burgio
palbaniburgio@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/28/21

Years of growing demand for its services has taken a toll on Golden Fire, its chief says. Now the department is working with two of its neighbors to fund a study meant to identify ways the three …

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As demands mount, Golden Fire to explore possible merger

City could join forces with Fairmount and Pleasant View

Posted

Years of growing demand for its services has taken a toll on Golden Fire, its chief says.

Now the department is working with two of its neighbors to fund a study meant to identify ways the three departments could better serve their communities and investigate the possibility of a full or partial merger of the departments.

“There are a lot of things that we do together already,” Golden Fire Chief Alicia Welch said of Golden Fire, Fairmount Fire and the Pleasant View Fire Department (which covers a 2.5-mile area of western Lakewood and unincorporated Jeffco. “What this study is going determine is if we should do more and on a greater scale.”

The study, which is slated to take roughly six months to complete, will cost just under $48,000 and be conducted by the AP Triton consulting group. The departments will split the bill three ways.

In a presentation to the Golden City Council, Welch said AP Triton will look at everything from the call volume and response times of the three departments to mutal-aid agreements, staffing levels and their overall budgets in order to make recommendations about whether the departments could both improve performance or function more cost-effectively by combining operations.

It is possible that the study could recommend that just two of the departments merge, or none of them. AP Triton will also create a plan for the departments to follow in order to meet its recommendations, although any decision about whether to do so will ultimately be left up to the respective fire boards.

Welch first recommended that Golden Fire undertake a study looking at the feasibility and potential benefits of merging operations with its neighbors in July of 2019, about eight months after she took over as chief and quickly became concerned about the department’s staffing levels relative to the demand for its services.

A different fire department study completed in 2019 found that call volume for the department had increased by 67% while the department’s resources and ability to respond had not kept pace, leading to a situation in which the department is now requesting mutual aid on 25% of calls. That growth is expected to continue with Golden Fire projected to respond to about 2,500 annual calls for service by 2025, about 500 more than it currently averages in a year.

Out of district calls ”a detriment”

One of the focuses on the study will be on whether the three department’s resources, including stations and trucks, are best situated within communities to meet demands. However, she said it is unlikely the study would lead to a change of the boundaries of individual districts.

The study will also make recommendations about Golden Fire’s current operations, including whether to respond to calls in such jurisdictions as Clear Creek Canyon and Black Hawk. Both Welch and members of the Golden City Council said responding to those calls has become a burden on the department because it is not effectively compensated by those jurisdictions.

“It will probably tell us stop going there or start charging them and getting financial support,” Welch said.

Golden City Manager Jason Slowinski also called those calls into the canyon “definitely a financial detriment to us.” He said that the county does get a share of gaming revenues generated in Black Hawk and Central City but that those grants do not account for the amount of calls Golden Fire responds to in the canyon.

“The last time we looked at cost per call, which is our entire fire department budget divided by the number of calls, we probably spend $150,000-$200,000 responding to calls in the canyon,” he said. “And if we are lucky we might get $50,000 back in gaming-type revenue, so it’s not nearly covering all of our expenditures there.”

The study will also look at aspects of the fire department’s processes related to recruitment and infrastructure in relation to concerns about equity, inclusion and diversity.

Welch said one example of that would be to look into whether the department’s trucks are accessible to people of all heights. The department has already been prioritizing that work as it aims to be “the best combined fire department in the nation,” Welch said.

Councilwoman JJ Trout expressed support for that effort and how the study could further it.

“Being able to look to the Golden Fire Department and what you all are doing with diversity and equity and inclusion and knowing you are going to be doing this assessment is great to hear,” she said.

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