By Kathleen Spring
It went from a gleam in the eyes of the Pinewood Springs Fire Protection District (PSFPD) Fire Board back in 2012, to the reality of a fire station in 2018 that is approximately twice the size of the original. A crowd of more than a hundred people, plus guests from nearby towns and government officials, gathered on a sunny April 29, 2018 for the Dedication of the expanded fire station .
"I'm so excited to be here on this glorious day," said John Bologna, Project Manager, and MC for the Dedication ceremony. "For us, this is not a building, it's a cause. It's all about readiness and, and it's about service and dedication."
The original fire station was 2,776 square feet, built 55 years ago. The new construction added four larger bays for fire trucks approximately 40 by 60 feet in size. The remodeled original building includes a
men's and women's locker room, two bathrooms, a conference room, kitchen, radio command room, and a large hall for community meetings or fire training. It has garage space to house a 22 foot truck and an utility task vehicle (UTV). The new concrete apron for the fire trucks is approximately 27 x 61 feet.
In 2012, the PSFPD Fire Board created a team structure (referred to as The Project) for the purposes of raising funds to design and build a new Fire Station, with a Community Center.
John Bologna, was the Chair and Project Manager, Ted Plank, DCC Chair (also the Fire Chief), Libby Noble, Brigade Chair, Jennifer Rivas, PRC Chair, Russ Hardy, Grants, and Andy Lucas, Fire Department Advisor (also the Assistant Fire Chief). Bologna was in charge of the capital campaign and fundraising, Plank the design and construction, Noble, local fundraising, and Rivas project events.
Great Flood of 2013
Then the little matter of the town getting hit by the 100 Year Flood of 2013 happened. The fire station became the headquarters for town meetings to figure out how the residents were going to endure the disaster. Homeowners could not drive to safety as only a short strip of U. S. Highway 36 had survived. Both ends of it had collapsed into the raging Little Thompson River. The emergency rescue personnel became a life line to the residents, offering timely updates, means of evacuation and a place for community emotional support.
By the end of 2014, most roads were repaired, and homes and lives were on their way to normality. The Fire District grabbed the opportunity to learn more about DOLA grants. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs works with local communities needing financial assistance, offering matching grants to support community facility and service needs. The first step was to draw up a fire station design, which was completed in the spring of 2015 with a $25,000 design grant from DOLA. Don Sandoval, DOLA Regional Manager, stepped in to offer help to ease the group through the entire grant process.
Since the DOLA grant required a dollar-for-dollar match, strong fundraising efforts were needed. Community events promoting the new fire station started in 2014, which included sales from the newly published book on the effects of the 2013 Great 100 Year Flood on Pinewood Springs. In 2015 the firefighters raised money four times with Boot Day, which entailed waving at traffic going down Highway 36. Funds were also raised through the sale of a cookbook of local homeowners' recipes, Valentine's day bouquets, and other community events.
The estimated Project budget was $846,000. The DOLA grant would provide $406,000, and the rest would be made up of community donations and grants totaling $240,000 and the hoped for lease/purchase obligation (funding from a mill levy) of $200,000.
Mill Levy on Ballot
During the Election of 2015, the Fire Board and Construction Project Team had to fight an up-hill battle to win over the residents to vote for a mill levy to support the new fire station. Some argued that the firefighters were doing great without a new station. Others argued that they supported a new station building, but not a mill levy. One of the biggest objections was that the levy would be permanent, even after the $200,000 was raised. The PSFPD argued that it would give them future stability to maintain a top quality fire department instead of delaying proposed upgrades and purchases while they waited to see if another mill levy would get passed.
The Pinewood Springs Property Owners Association Board supported the Ballot Issue 4B. Their research showed that the Lease Purchase Loan (paid back with 3.5 mil levy increase) would be $200,000. By making this a lease/purchase loan instead of a bond, it would save the community approximately $50,000 in borrowing costs. As far as the cost to the residents, the new facility levy would cost $6.96 per month for a home with a property tax value of $300,000.
Pulling out some facts to fight the pushback, Hardy, grants director, stated that annually, 2.2 million vehicles pass through Pinewood Springs (on US-36) on their way to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, which was a 30 percent vehicle increase since 1999. This resulted in an ever-increasing number of vehicle response calls. In addition, the community population has grown from 123 in the early 60’s to almost 1000 today, leading to more medical and fire calls.
"Currently, the fire department has 20 active, volunteer firefighters working out of a small, antiquated station," said Hardy. He argued that the quarters were too cramped to clean the fire engines and equipment, and they had to pull the vehicles out of the garages. Also, in inclement weather extensive training could not take place.
In the November election the count was 203 yes, 197 no. The response rate was 68 percent of 587 ballots issued. The DOLA grant application for matching funds was submitted on December 1, 2015, and it received notice of the award in early April for the full budget matching funds of $406,000 for the PSFPD Fire Station and Community Center Project.
A public bid for a licensed and experienced metal building general contractor was immediately sent out.
Another bump in the road happened in early August 2016 when the round 1 of project bids were rejected by the Fire Board as unacceptable due to severely inflated construction costs seen across Colorado. Based on these market conditions, the Fire Board and project teams worked closely with the county and DOLA on a hybrid project plan: a 4-bay garage addition and refurbishing the existing structure.
The contract was awarded in mid-November. The revised Phase 1 contract was for excavation & construction, slated to begin in January. The targeted completion timeline was Spring 2017. They worked with Pinewood Springs Water District on a new water line in December 2016. Volunteer firefighters moved equipment and temporary operations into the new structure in preparation for Phase 2. Emergency Services remained operational through all construction phases.
"It's funny, but a little unnerving when Art (Caruso) got the demolition permit for the existing building, well ahead of the building permit," said Bologna. "As I was going to work every day, I was passing less and less of the building until it was ground level! And, then, behold a new station and community center."
The two-phased approach allowed the Fire Board to achieve the community goals and stay within budget. Phase 2 of the project was an extensive remodel of the existing Fire Station structure. In February 2017 the foundation walls were poured. Progress on the new garage building was proceeding ahead of schedule. The contract was awarded in March. The remodel of the existing Fire Station was underway in June 2017.
In 2018, the project was again proceeding ahead of schedule. Volunteers helped where they could to put the final touches on the building such as painting. The fire station opened to the public on April 29. After the Dedication ceremony, the audience toured the building and enjoyed fire red and orange cupcakes.
Recognition at the Ceremony
Captain Jessica Bologna announced at the Dedication ceremony that the firefighters were able to do their required training inside the now larger building this winter during bad weather. She thanked the Lyons Community Foundation for a $10,000 grant. The grant, along with another $5,000 from the PSFPD funds, bought battery-charged used extrication equipment (vs. hydraulic) because it is more portable and it is stronger for use on current vehicle steel frames. In addition, the firefighters would be participating in a training program for the new equipment along-side the Lyons firefighters. They will learn about new air bag locations, metals and cables, restraint systems, where to cut, and more.
Project director Russ Hardy was hardily thanked for his extensive volunteer work by the PSFPD personnel and the attending residents. He was presented with a plaque for his excellent services. Also present were Plank, Lucas, and Lieutenants Brian Rappel, John Bykerk, Tom Emerson, and Andrew Hart. All members of the firefighting department were called up, and received grateful applause.
Dick Wilcox was called up to receive a plaque, honoring him for his 41 years of service. He was a volunteer firefighter for 41 years, with 35 of them as chief, now retired. Bologna told tales of how Wilcox could show both affection and a steel hand when dealing with enforcing the rules of firefighting, both in saving the lives of victims and that of his firefighters. His wife Sandra was also brought up and thanked for her support through her husband's long hours on the job. Toward the end of the ceremony, the retired fire chief was called up again for an even bigger surprise. A three foot tall sign with his name on it was presented.
"I'm sure when you give thought to the people of Pinewood who have gone above and beyond, you think of many," said Bologna. "But you have to start with Dick. He's capable, selfless, generous, expert and committed. That's why the Board of Directors for the PSFPD has decided to name and dedicate this building the Richard L. Wilcox Fire Station and Community Center."
Latest News and New Services
PSFPD provides services to the community of Pinewood Springs and Estes Park Estates, the adjacent National Forest areas, and the US Highway 36 corridor. The coverage area includes sections of Larimer and Boulder Counties. But it has been known to also help in extreme forest fire emergencies, such as the Big Elk Fire, and Boulder's Sunshine Canyon fire in March 2017.
Cooperation among fire departments in the Front Range also brought better fire protection services to the Pinewood residents. In December 2015, Big Elk began to participate in the Insurance Services Office Inc. (ISO) assessment, making their equipment available to Pinewood. Combine that with the new readily accessible reservoir built in Pinewood, and the ISO informed the PSFPD that it had upgraded the rating, which would lower homeowners insurance costs.
Thanks to the landowner across from the fire station whose property was used for helicopter evacuations during the 2013 flood. It continues to be used today for helicopter medical emergencies.
The new fire station's Community Center is available for use by residents and boards representing non-profit or civic groups in the Pinewood Springs community.
The PSFPD plans to put on informational safety talks. It has an online video “Prepare Your Home, Burning Down The House," which was created to increase awareness about the risk of wildfires in our community.
Colorado residents, residing in the PSFPD, 18 years of age or older can contact Ted Plank for more information about becoming a volunteer firefighter. Previous experience is not required. All training, gear and equipment is provided by the fire district. The department has grown by seven volunteers since 2015.
For more information call (303) 823-5086. In case of an emergency call 911.