In a year as tough as 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.

Mark Garcia was hired full-time as the department’s wildland fire coordinator, four seasonal jobs were created, and NFPD purchased a new wildland “chase truck” that carries crew, gear and supplies for extended firefighting assignments.

After 17 years of dedicated service, Linda Soucie retired in 2020. Sonny Lopez was hired as district administrator, Candy Meehan joined the team as bookkeeper, and Soucie has stayed on as needed to support the transition.

Matt Mogg joined the department full-time, and a new, state-of-the-art AWD Ford Transit ambulance was purchased, promising more capabilities and smoother rides on the way to hospital emergency rooms.

NFPD launched its ambitious wildland contracting program during one of the most destructive wildfire seasons in Colorado and U.S. history. The Norwood crew and several NFPD vehicles were called to assist with 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,” Garcia said. “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 was 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 officials say 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,” Bockrath said. “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.”

NFPD’s 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. NFPD is also poised to take delivery on a tactical tender in early 2021 — a 4x4 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.

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,” Bockrath said. “We’re able to share more responsibilities, keep our citizens safer, and we have more time to focus on long-term planning.”

Bockrath is looking toward 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.