Log In

Reset Password

Colorado Gov. Polis meets with Rico fire officials about wildfire preparedness

Gov. Jared Polis, in blue, met with officials with the Rico Fire Protection District Tuesday. (Courtesy photo)
Governor views plans for new fire station, hears about challenges of volunteer fire districts

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis took a summer road trip through Southwest Colorado Tuesday with stops in Norwood, Rico and Silverton.

He discussed an affordable housing project in Norwood, wildfire mitigation efforts in Rico, and education in Silverton.

Polis visited with leaders of the Rico Fire Protection District at the firehouse to discuss wildfire preparedness and department needs, learning about a $2.7 million project to build a second fire station next door, and the need to replace outdated trucks and equipment.

“It's great to hear what is happening on the ground and see how the state can help,” Polis said in a phone interview with The Journal. “We’re excited to work with them to get the equipment and capacity that they need to meet the higher level of fire risk.”

The Colorado Department of Local Affairs helped to fund the architectural plans for the fire station expansion, he said. The fire district can apply for state matching funds for construction.

The Rico Fire Protection District has 22 volunteer firefighters, including 13 trained to fight wildland fires, said Chief Todd Jones.

They were deployed last summer to fight a wildfire on a steep, wooded hillside in town.

The governor’s visit “was a good opportunity for discussion about our expansion project and the challenges we face as a rural volunteer fire district,” Jones said.

He said the current fire station no longer has space for all the trucks and equipment, and the department needs room for training and technology. Outdated equipment also needs to be replaced, Jones said.

Polis noted that most parts of the state that face threats of wildfire are protected mainly by volunteer fire departments.

“We’re looking at new ways to support them because more wildfire mitigation is likely to be the new normal for the decades ahead,” Polis said. “On behalf of the state, we are so grateful for volunteer firefighters who go above and beyond their daily jobs to protect all of us.”

The state has stepped up with more funding to prevent and fight wildfires, he said.

In the past two years, Polis said, his administration has committed about $145 million in state funds and leveraged millions of dollars in federal funds for forest health and wildfire mitigation work to protect Colorado communities, critical infrastructure and watersheds from wildfires.

According to a news release, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources has earmarked $13.3 million for on-the-ground forest mitigation work and landscape scale projects as part of the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program.

Forty-one grants for fuel reduction, watershed protection and wildfire mitigation were distributed to 17 counties, covering 3,664 acres.

The Mancos Conservation District was awarded a $1 million grant for a mitigation project in the Northwest Mancos Priority Zone.

Polis has heard from fire chiefs about the challenges of attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters whose employers give them enough time off to cover fire calls.

Polis said Colorado is examining programs that would offer state employees paid time off if they responded to emergencies as volunteer firefighters.