Telluride Fire Department personnel responded to this small fire in 2018.The Telluride Fire Protection District recently added new staff positions in response to the growing need for services. (Planet file photo)

The Telluride Fire Protection District (TFPD) has announced 11 new appointments, including eight new hires, to increase the depth of EMS and fire coverage. Faced with increased demands for services and the financial wherewithal to create new positions, expanding staff will, according to district chief John Bennett, benefit not only TFPD, but also the community as a whole.

“I’m incredibly excited,” he said. “With change in the atmosphere and the economy there have been greater demands on our services. We were feeling the load of it.”

Six new fire captains were hired last week to support first responder efforts in the field, conduct trainings and inspections, and maintain apparatus and facilities, according to a news release. Bennett said Mike Cabell, Mike Kimball, Adam deAlva, Jon Martin, John Weigand and Dan Curtis have been appointed to these newly created positions. They will start in their new roles in February.

Additionally, John Cheroske has been moved into the newly created fire division chief position, as of Monday, and will oversee fire operations.

Earlier this month firefighters and paramedics Garan Dimuzio and Steve Langion joined staff firefighters and paramedics Emil Sante, Heidi Attenberger, and paramedic Lindsey MacIntire. Firefighter and paramedic Brad Blackwell was appointed captain of the EMS division last fall.

Also last fall, firefighter and EMT-I Scott Heidergott was hired to train with and replace fire marshal Jim Boeckel when he retires in April.

“These are meaningful steps for us to be in the best position to respond to the emergency needs of the residents and visitors to our district,” Bennett said.

The new hires were made possible, in part, by the passage of a two-part      ballot measure in 2018 that gave the district a two-mill increase on residential property taxes. The second part of the ballot question, which was comfortably approved by about 70 percent of voters in that election, sought approval to “de-Gallagherize.” The fire district asked to remove itself from the constraints of the Gallagher Amendment, a tax-related provision in the state constitution that has caused a drastic reduction in residential property tax revenue. As a consequence of de-Gallagherizing, the fire district’s residential assessment rate was frozen at 7.2 percent. Voter approval of that two-tiered effort to stem revenue losses has proven fruitful.

“The tax increase was a precursor to allowing this move. It is a significant component in being able to add paid staff,” Bennett said in an interview with the Daily Planet Wednesday. “(The 2018 election) was the first time we’d gone to the voter in more than 20 years. We’ve been incredibly diligent with the tax dollars we’ve been provided.”

The additional coverage means better response times and will reduce the load on the district’s volunteer core, Bennett said.

“Our volunteers leave, home, families, work, every time an alarm is activated,” Bennett said.

With more paid staff on duty there will be eyes on a situation sooner, and the more rapid ability to assess whether there’s a need to call out the volunteers.

Volunteerism, Bennett noted, has been on the wane, a trend that has been observed not just locally, but nationally. The local housing shortage has impacted the district’s volunteer base, and while employers continue to be supportive of volunteers that can be called away at a moment’s notice, smaller enterprises that have to shut down when there’s an EMS or fire call, have been adversely impacted.

By adding paid staff, volunteers will be able to receive increased training and the district can provide them a “more realistic time commitment.”

“There’s only so many hours in a day,” Bennett said. “We were running them into the ground.”

Bennett said the district will continue to recruit. He anticipates that retention will improve with the easing of some volunteer time commitments. There are currently 50 volunteer firefighters and 30 volunteer EMTs who are involved with TFPD.

Bennett is grateful to the TFPD board, a five-person body elected by the public that oversees district management and finances. Their support for bolstering paid staff cannot be overstated, he said.

“They’ve been incredibly supportive and mindful of the tax dollar,” he said.

Currently serving on the district board are president Chris Broady, vice president Jim Lucarelli, secretary-treasurer Dan Tigar, and at-large members Chris Hazen and Clifford Hanson.

The community, too, Bennett said, deserves the district’s gratitude for its decisive approval of the 2018 mill levy.

“Great things have come out of it.”