The issue of what to do about fire protection in mountain subdivision developments came before the Carbon County Commission in two ways last Wednesday.
First, the commission was considering approving a fire sprinkling system ordinance for all mountain development construction. Second, a resident of Aspen Cove subdivision near Scofield Reservoir approached the county about fire protection in the area.
In a recent Carbon County Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the members recommended that an ordinance be approved requiring all new cabins and homes in mountain developments to have fire sprinkler suppression systems installed when the structures are built.
"There has been some concern about what the cost of installing these systems in new homes would be," county planning and zoning director Dave Levanger told the commissioners. "I spoke with a subcontractor who installs these systems and they told me it would add about two dollars per square foot to the cost of a house or a cabin."
Some people would like to avoid the cost. But because of the long distances fire fighting units have to travel to reach mountain zones, the systems may be the only way for residents in the areas to get needed protection.
"To me, the cost is a non-issue considering what it could do to save property," said Carbon Commissioner Mike Milovich.
Representing the residents of Aspen Cove subdivision northwest of Scofield Reservoir, Dough Cloward approached the commission about fire protection for the second time in the last year.
Last June, members of the Aspen Cove association presented the county with a list of concerns involving the subdivision. At the time, a handful of full-time residents lived in the development, but Cloward said he expected the number to grow as people finish retirement homes and move to the area.
The association's list included fire protection, police protection, roads, cattle problems, access through the west entrance to the development, property and building inspections and property sale notifications.
The most prominent concern , fire protection, again surfaced at the Jan. 19 meeting.
"When I was last here, you suggested that I find some ground we could use for storing fire protection equipment in the area," he told the commission. "Well we have found some common ground that could be used for that purpose."
In the meeting last spring Cloward requested that a small unit be placed in the area to contain a fire so the blaze would not spread to surrounding forest and range areas or threaten other structures. At the time he said full-time residents were willing to complete training to operate equipment and perform duties. He reiterated that position on Wednesday night, after Milovich asked him about how such a station would be manned.
"We do have a number of people that would help with this, but for the most part they couldn't be there 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle it," he stated. "We do have a few who are living there year round though."
Cloward said that he was concerned about the fire protection that is available most of the time, but during the winter he becomes even more worried, because of snow and ice problems on the road.
"I worry that the Scofield unit might not even be able to make it up the hill to the development in the winter," he explained.
The discussion then turned to what the county could do to help solve the problems of access and the positioning of equipment to respond to a fire. Cloward also said that residents were also concerned about other emergency services as well. One of the points of discussion was roads coming in from the rear of the development which Helper's units could use to respond. However as Milovich and others pointed out in the winter that road, even when plowed, would be marginal to use, particularly for big heavy fire units.
But the bigger problem than what snowy roads would propose is just simple response time. On a good day it takes both Scofield and Helper up to 40 minutes to respond to the area on an emergency so the issue eventually came back to putting some type of station right in the subdivision.
"This is something that was discussed time and time again when that development was placed there," stated Milovich. "It was talked about in the public meetings we had and it was thoroughly discussed. That is why when people who built their signed the papers on their homes there it says that you can't expect fire protection."
Much of the concern about the protection in the area has arisen from a couple of fires in the area these last few years. One fire burned a cabin on the shoreline and by the time Helper units arrived all they could do is basically cool down the fire and keep it from spreading to other nearby structures. Another case actually happened in Aspen Cove where an unoccupied home started to burn and no one even knew until a passer-by on Highway 96 saw the smoke from two miles away. That cabin was also a total loss.
"A suggestion I have for some better protection in the area could be to install alarm systems that would provide input to the fire agencies," said Levanger.
Another issue that arose was concern over whether the fire plugs will work properly during the freezing weather. Fire personnel from Helper have checked some of the plugs and found that a few of those were plugged off during the winter.
"The problem is that from year to year the frost line varies in the area," said Robert Welch, the assistant fire chief for Helper. "Some years, like this, we have a lot of snow so it helps to insulate the lines. Other years there isn't much so the lines freeze."
That brought out a discussion about whether the plugs were installed according to code and what could be done about that problem.
But Cloward still continued to press for some type of equipment on site.
"We just want consideration on two fronts," he said. "First we would like to see better access for emergency equipment to reach our development and secondly, if we can't get some kind of motorized equipment could we at least have some kind of hose or a reel cart to help us battle a fire until help arrives?"
Milovich pointed out that even with a hose the residents might not be able to get any water to a fire because when the plugs were checked many of them didn't have enough pressure to drive a hose the hundreds of feet it might take to get to a cabin blaze.
Another part of the discussion focused on the present Scofield fire station. It seems that the number of residents in town continues to drop and that most are now elderly and younger people who could man fire equipment do not exist in the town anymore. The county is concerned about the situation and has been looking for solutions.
"I have spoken to several fire fighters in the area," explained Welch. "I think if we could set up a good schedule many are willing to help man Scofield. Most of those people are EMTs too so that would help with the emergency situation there too."
The commissioners told Cloward that they would look further into solving the problem, but that the residents should continue to bring ideas to them so that something could be worked out.