MUnicipal public safety Facility
Dear citizens of Manitou,
My name is Lieutenant Andrew Winchell, and I serve as Foreman of the Manitou Springs Volunteer Fire Department.
Although the vote on ballot 2B is over I think it’s important to address statements that were made concerning the issue. I don’t believe pointing fingers will help our community and I hope this brings only the facts to the table. This does not change the results of the vote, but I believe that you should know why MSVFD pushed to build this facility, so you’ll better understand the challenges your firefighters face on a daily basis. I will respond to 7 of the concerns presented against the vote to build a public safety training facility.
“The project was fast-tracked.”
While the process of getting 2B on the ballot happened in only a few weeks, the extensive planning process has been ongoing with close cooperation with City Council since 2015. Rather than it being a single-purpose facility, it was designed to meet the needs of the fire department, police department, and city records, and was ready as an emergency operations center. After the renovation of the elementary school playground which no longer allows fire apparatus to be staged there, the emergency operations center is now a need for flood and other events that require the evacuation of city buildings along Fountain Creek.
“There are 3 other fire towers in the area.”
MSVFD does have access to CSFD, Fort Carson, and Air Force Academy, but these towers are in high demand. As volunteers, we have to conduct these full-day towers on the weekends, when we’re not working. Colorado Springs FD has 22 stations, with 3 shifts at each. All 22 stations rotate through the CSFD tower regularly. Pikes Peak Community College receives priority when booking Fort Carson’s tower. That leaves outside departments vying to find weekends that’ll work for scheduling, with months of advance planning required. Add in the unpredictable elements of poor weather, a non-functioning hydrant, or a scheduling conflict, and the fire tower becomes unusable.
Live fire is an essential element of training, but you’ll regularly find our firefighters stretching attack hose lines, spraying water, connecting to hydrants, practicing search and rescue, training on forcible entry for locked doors, and throwing ladders, to name a few. While larger departments may have the manpower to dedicate a firefighter to each task on scene, we have to be ready to perform any of those skills at any time on scene. That’s the reality of a volunteer department. Each of these skills must be taught first intellectually, and then practiced repeatedly. They each have requirements of space and equipment.
We’ve been banned from practicing forcible entry at our station during work hours due to noise outside of city hall. Ladders can be thrown against the station, but there’s no windows to practice entering and exiting through. There are no locations in Manitou for our firefighters to complete realistic interior search and rescue training. We often use parking lots for hose training, but find it difficult to find empty lots. All this means that we spend precious time during every training event first looking for a usable space to practice that skill. A training facility creates the space for providing all kinds of realistic training scenarios in a controlled space, not just live fire practice.
“Outside agencies man our station at no cost.”
Mutual aid agreements are in place, but they are for large or complex incidents, not for what should be considered everyday activities and events. There is no practice of covering stations during training. For each fire tower, we take an engine and 10-15 volunteers out of district. Let me be super clear: during off-site fire towers, there is only one engine and a skeleton crew of firefighters in Manitou. You will not find an engine and crew from another department staffing our station.
If a structure fire comes in during a tower, we’re relying on other mutual aid agencies such as Colorado Springs, Crystal Park, Cascade, and Green Mountain Falls. They have to receive the call, determine whether they can spare the resources (which is not a guarantee, depending on what 911 calls each department is handling), and then respond from their respective districts. Considering that new residential construction begins to collapse in 15 minutes of burn time, those response times are a major concern.
“The vast majority of responses are for medical calls, not for fires.”
This is true, but fires are high risk, low frequency events that firefighters must continually prepare for. With the rapid fire growth conditions we face, all of those previously discussed skills need to be executed effectively within minutes of arrival. If you search YouTube for “firefighter fails” you’ll see what happens when firefighters don’t get it right in the heat of the moment. When it’s your home or business, particularly if a loved one is still inside, we don’t get to use the excuse that the majority of the calls we respond to are medicals, not fires.
“MSVFD’s current training is sufficient.”
Training is not a binary thing. In my time with MSVFD, I’ve logged an increasing number of training hours every single year. A letter in the Pikes Peak Bulletin questioned the need for so many hours of training, citing that doctors are only required 50 hours annually. To date in 2017 I’ve logged over 300 training hours. Many of my fellow volunteers have logged far more than that. We train constantly, aggressively, under stress, in poor conditions, and on isolated skills and full-blown scenarios. Is our training sufficient? I can only answer that personally: the day I say my training is sufficient is the day that I become complacent.
“The proposed facility would not be state certified, so all firefighters would still have to go to the Air Force Academy for certification.”
This statement is 100% false. We can complete state certification testing at any local fire tower, including the one proposed for Manitou.
“A Manitou City Councilor independently verified every statement in the opposition letter, and reached out to the highest officials in MSVFD throughout the process with no avail.”
Chief Forsett has been readily available for questions, as well as many other officers and firefighters. At a recent voter forum, there were at least a dozen volunteers on hand to answer questions from the public. The partial truths and alternate facts I’ve addressed make evident the lack of verification from sources knowledgeable in MSVFD’s operations. I understand that there’s sometimes a veil of mystery in regards to what we do, so please know this: our door is open. We are here to serve you, which means providing education, not just 911 responses. We are more than happy to drop what we’re doing and answer questions, give a station tour, or demo skills. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org, just let me know what I can do to serve you.
In closing, we appreciate the tremendous support of this community over the years. The election does not change our training needs. Creating space for our routine trainings is a top priority for our department. We are committed to the motto of our department - “Neighbors serving neighbors” - so we will do what it takes to make sure we keep that promise. Whether you voted for or against 2B, I hope that you’ll continue to support MSVFD.
Lt. Andrew Winchell