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Norwood Fire Signs Mutual Aid Agreements with Telluride, Nucla-Naturita
NNFD Chief Leaves a Legacy of Cooperation, Community Support
NORWOOD, Colo. – March 31, 2021 – Gov. Jared Polis ordered flags to fly at half-mast in honor of Nucla-Naturita Fire Chief Chester Riley, who died in the line of duty while responding to an emergency call on March 20th. At Riley’s funeral last Saturday, fire and EMS crews from Norwood and other districts near and far came out to recognize Riley’s community service and reputation for always lending a hand and looking out for others.
“Chester had a heart of gold, and would give anyone the shirt off his back. He was born and raised here, has served with the fire department for about as long as anyone can remember, and his unexpected passing at age 56 was a shock to his family and to our communities,” said Norwood Fire Protection District Chief John Bockrath. “Chester was a dedicated public servant and, just before he passed away, was instrumental in establishing the first mutual aid agreement between the Norwood and Nucla-Naturita fire departments that we just signed. We’re grateful to him for this legacy of cooperation, and for his inspiration for us all to work together in protecting our communities.”
In rural fire districts, particularly in San Miguel and Montrose Counties with such vastness and sparse populations, mutual aid policy agreements are critical components to public safety. By agreeing to respond on each other’s emergency calls, residents of adjacent fire districts can count on an additional layer of protection with fire suppression, medical emergencies, hazard mitigation and rescue services. Each fire district has more confidence in having more to work with, and can rely on each other by sharing equipment, vehicles and personnel. These increased quantities and capabilities can bring tremendous advantages in difficult situations.
NFPD also recently renewed its existing mutual aid agreement with the Telluride Fire Protection District. A strong example of how well mutual aid policies can work was seen last year on the Green Meadows Fire just outside of Placerville. Multiple agencies responded to TFPD’s district, and Norwood’s wildland crew was in the thick of it. Property defense tactics were used that have since been recognized by the six-county West Region Wildfire Council as excellent examples of cooperative fire control and mitigation programs in action. Mutual aid agreements are especially useful when fighting wildland fires, when more people are needed, working hard over many hours, and with commanders needing to shift out tired firefighters.
“By building relationships and becoming familiar with each other’s resources, we can work in harmony with Norwood and other agencies,” said TFPD Chief John Bennett. “This is especially important on more significant events like wildland fires where we need more vehicles, water and people.”
Regional fire districts in the remote West End are so spread apart that it’s not uncommon for an adjacent fire district to arrive first on the scene in their neighbor’s jurisdiction. The state requires these mutual aid policies if departments are going to respond outside their territories, and insurance and liability issues almost mandate their enforcement.
“Having mutual aid in place extends our departments,” said Bockrath. “We’re able to do a better job, and it’s comforting to know when we’re on a fire that we’ve got more water coming, and more people on the way.”
Riley was universally known as a caring individual who was always an advocate for his community. “This mutual aid agreement helps the citizens of Nucla and Naturita,” said Bockrath. “It’s part of the legacy that Chester will be remembered for. We couldn’t have done it without his diligence and cooperation.”
Norwood Fire District Marks 2020 Milestones
Major Improvements in EMS, Wildland Capabilities
By John Metzger
In the tough year of 2020, the Norwood Fire Protection District (NFPD) saw significant growth, and made some of its most historic improvements since the department’s founding in 1932. In keeping with long-term goals to improve capabilities and provide more public safety services, Chief John Bockrath, with the support of the district’s volunteer board, supervised department expansion to achieve several major milestones:
NFPD launched its ambitious wildland contracting program during one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in Colorado, and in U.S. history. The Norwood crew and several NFPD vehicles were called out in combinations on a half-dozen major Colorado and California fires including Pine Gulch, East Canyon, East Fork, Roc, Mullen, and the Creek Fire in Fresno County, California.
“Unfortunately, it was one of the biggest wildland fire seasons ever, but fortunately for us, it was literally trial by fire, and we learned a lot,” said Garcia. “We couldn’t have asked for better opportunities with our first year in terms of making connections and focusing our operations with so much fire activity.”
Thanks to Garcia’s contacts, knowledge and on-scene professionalism, Norwood’s crew received high evaluations, and got noticed as a reliable resource by the national and state agencies that manage the big fires. In its inaugural wildland contracting season, Norwood established its presence and skills, and began building a reputation that should pay off in the years to come.
“Mark and his crew showed everyone that we are a capable department and know what we’re doing,” said Bockrath. “He did a great job in getting the Norwood Fire name out there across the state and in California, and getting us well-positioned in the system for the 2021 season.”
The next step is to hire a contract Engine Boss, specially trained and qualified to lead an engine and crew that can report and respond to task force supervisors on large fires. Also, NFPD is poised to take delivery on a tactical tender in early 2021 – a 4×4 fire engine that delivers water to the fireground. Bockrath plans to convert Norwood’s older ambulance for use on wildland contracting as well, allowing the team to rotate three of its EMTs out on wildland fire suppression and mitigation assignments next season.
The newest full-timer on the team, Chief Paramedic Matt Mogg, will be helping to outfit the new AWD Ford Transit ambulance over the next couple of months. He’s brought welcome relief to Norwood’s medical technicians who are responding to a growing number of EMS calls, now averaging well above 300 every year.
“With Matt’s experience, our team has really upped its game when it comes to effective medical response,” said Bockrath. “We’re able to share more responsibilities, keep our citizens safer, and we have more time to focus on long-term planning.”
Bockrath sees the future with NFPD’s new look and operating model, which includes building out the Redvale station as a Wildland Regional Center, more frequent and higher quality training, and working out more mutual aid and water resource agreements.
Norwood Firefighters are Very Busy!
By John Metzger
How do they get it all done?
NFPD Wildland Captain Mark Garcia and contract firefighter Kyle Koenig no sooner got back from a two-week tour-of-duty on the Pine Gulch Fire, the biggest in Colorado history, then off Mark motors to Buffalo, NY to pick up the District’s brand-spanking-new Dodge 2500 chase truck. The factory-fresh ride made it back across the country, and got its Norwood decals applied just in time to get baptized by fire last Wednesday evening, helping to quickly dispatch a lightning strike flare-up on Deer Mesa.
Along comes Thursday, and Garcia is back on the road with the new wildland support vehicle, Norwood’s Engine 7 brush truck, and two contract firefighters to the East Fork Fire in southeastern Colorado near Trinidad. This assignment is part of a State Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) Task Force, and a supporting example of NFPD’s five-year plan to develop the district into a regional wildland support and strategic command center.
With one lightning strike, there are often two, and that same day Norfire was called out again on another remote wildland smoke report – typically, 911 calls that are just as likely dust or imagination. But this one was real.
After smoldering for a day, some low brush ignited in the Gurley Lake subdivision northeast of the lake on private land. It quickly spread to oak scrub, juniper and to a ponderosa pine or two before Forest Service Captain Mike Shultz was first to arrive and attack. Two Norwood engines joined the USFS crew, and a total of nine firefighters extinguished the spreading flames, holding them to about 200×100 feet from dangerous expansion.
Another day, another fire. Or two, or three. All in a few day’s work, and a few more days in the life of a busy, rural fire department serving our district’s growing need for mission-critical public safety infrastructure. Norwood’s expansion strategy is well supported with shared resources and great partners like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management fire crews, spread far and wide across our vast and remote corner of southwestern Colorado.