LETTERS: Black Forest fire report; if it was arson... [Gazette, The (CO)]
(Gazette, The (CO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Responding to criticism
My name is Bill Marchant. I am a director of the board of directors for the Black Forest Fire and Rescue Protection District. I was elected to a four-year term in May of 2012, and this is a voluntary position with no compensation other than the personal satisfaction of giving back to the community.
Many allegations have been put forth against the fire board members and the fire chief of the Black Forest Fire District, Bob Harvey, that need to be addressed.
First of all and probably most important, are unsubstantiated allegations against Chief Harvey's response to the fire of June 2013. A local television station produced a one-sided story, basically accusing our chief of incompetence and that was perpetuated by an official of El Paso County. We, as the board, had an obligation to our employee and our department to look into these allegations. We hired an independent investigator, a well-known and respected investigator, to look into the timeline and actions of Chief Harvey and the department. The report speaks for itself. Chief Harvey was exonerated, and we fulfilled our obligation to our employee and the department. It is necessary that our community understand what happened during the onset of the fire and that their chief and fire department responded in an ethical and responsible manner.
The board has been accused of being secretive and nontransparent, even by one sitting board member. All of our meetings are open to the public and participation is not only welcome but encouraged. We will engage anyone that wants to have a dialogue and discuss why decisions were made to hire an investigator and why we held quiet until the report was finished.
When this issue was first raised by some community members there were many reasons why we could not discuss this publicly. For example: everyone in the community and surrounding areas has an opinion on what started this catastrophic fire. An opinion stated by Chief Harvey to that local television station started another "firestorm" that took on a life of its own.
Without any idea where the sheriff is in his investigation, how could we know what would be safe to say or not to say? We, as a board, instructed the chief and all involved to be quiet and not influence the investigator we hired, let him do his job.
Another contentious issue with some community members was the adoption of the 2009 fire code by the Board of the Black Forest Fire District. At least two years before my election and under the guidance of the former Black Forest fire chief, this issue had been discussed and addressed at the BoCC. No decision was ever made by the county commissioners. The city of Colorado Springs adopted the new code with the Wild Land Urban Interface (WUI) amendment. I believed passing the code would bring this to a conclusion with the BoCC. It did. I did not agree with the actions of the BoCC, I still don't, but we now have a decision from the commissioners.
Our concern was, and still is, without a unified, countywide code, several problems are present:
- Many areas along the Front Range are vulnerable to yet another catastrophic fire.
- There is no fire code consistent throughout El Paso County.
- Insurance companies have taken a big hit in Colorado in recent years with fire, flood, hail and wind. Without a recently updated fire code, who do you think will bear these costs? They will pass these on especially in light of no action being taken to prevent future events.
- Fire districts are expected to protect their communities with no input whatsoever into what codes will be enforced.
Bill Marchant, Black Forest Fire and Rescue director
Develop community-wide response
After reading "Black Forest fire report questions use of resources gets quick backlash from sheriff" (March 14), I was sorry there was not more emphasis on the recommendations for enhancing our emergency response efforts. I believe the recent disasters experienced by the residents of El Paso County offer the opportunity to develop a community wide response that could be a model for other counties and states. Most critically, we need to have a county plan that all emergency planners, first responders, and fire and police personnel can participate in and agree upon. I am pleased to report the creation of one part of such a plan is in its first stages of being formed collaboratively here in El Paso County. The county's Emergency Manager, Liz Jordan, and the city's Director of Emergency Management, Bret Waters, along with their respective staff members, are all working with The Independence Center's Emergency Services Coordinator Nick DeSutter and several trained individuals with a variety of disabilities to create a more effective "Access and Functional Needs" response plan.
Although the plan is in its initial stages, already there is a sense that it will be much stronger for the input from the disability community.
While the Black Forest fire report released last week stirred up a hornet's nest of accusations that do not serve our community's interests well, the recommendations should not be disregarded. Personal disagreements and agendas should not keep the excellent general recommendations made in this report from being included. I hope the next sheriff takes note of the recommendations and leads us to an interdependent emergency response for all people living in El Paso County.
Frankly, our lives and property depend on it.
Patricia Yeager, Ph.D., The Independence Center, Colorado Springs
If it was arson, tell us
It is way, way, way past time for authorities to inform the public exactly where and exactly how the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires started. If it was arson, tell us!
Rod Summitt, Colorado Springs
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