Colo. fire departments make first step towards fire authority merger

Officials say the deal does not guarantee the future creation of a joint authority: "It's a short-term fix to be efficient"


By Anthony Hahn
Daily Camera

LAFAYETTE, Colo. — A resolution sanctioned by Lafayette's City Council enacting an intergovernmental agreement between its fire department and the Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District might be the first step toward the eventual creation of a fire authority.

The agreement — approved Monday for a preliminary partnership that will last through 2020 — allows the sharing of personnel and equipment with Rocky Mountain Fire, or, as City Administrator Gary Klaphake said, the "low hanging" fruit of a potential total merger sometime in the future.

Officials say the deal does not guarantee the future creation of a joint authority: "It's a short-term fix to be efficient," Klaphake said. "We can cancel it and get rid of it - it's all kind of reversible.

"The (agreement) is such low hanging fruit that it just saves us money," he added. "Even if an authority never happens, we ought to chip away at the easy stuff."

City records unveiled earlier this year suggested the first phase of the agreement would consist of a shared chief between the organizations, as well as the positions of fire marshal, training chief, operations chief and battalion chief, though it is unclear if that is still the operating notion.

Lafayette and Rocky Mountain Fire will form a working group on the issue before any decision is made on whether or not to merge. The group likely will comprised of members from Lafayette City Council, Rocky Mountain Fire officials and staff from both entities, officials say.

The group will focus on a slew of lingering questions and concerns about how such a partnership could play out.

"The two areas that these two departments serve are very different and that's worth investigating how that impacts the training and equipment you need," Councilwoman Stephanie Walton said Monday. "I would expect that a very compelling case of recommending more would come out of it, but I want to take it a little bit slow."

Fire authority agreements generally function as a consolidation between "fire departments previously operated by the individual entities," according to a 2005 Colorado Fire Service Profile, which dictates the "governance, funding and operation" of service coverage.

According to officials, the joint authority would function similarly to a municipal government, with the exception of being able to collect taxes.

"Our objective is to improve service delivery while using public tax dollars more efficiently," Lafayette Fire Chief David Friedel wrote in a report earlier this month, adding there is currently a movement in Boulder County to "increase efficiencies and contain costs by cooperation, attempting standardization and reevaluation of current methods and practices of service delivery."

Similar authorities have been implemented elsewhere in Colorado including Parker/South Metro Fire, Loveland/Loveland Rural, Poudre Valley/Fort Collins and Wheat Ridge/West Metro Fire.

The approval comes roughly a year after Lafayette imposed a moratorium on new senior living development in the wake of an analysis indicating the facilities' strain on local emergency and fire services. Three of the city's facilities accounted for 324 fire department calls out of 3,000 total in 2016 — almost 11 percent.

"While there is an increase in calls for service coupled with the cost to provide service ever increasing, through a fire authority there is opportunity to contain costs and maintain service standards while taking advantage of efficiencies by reducing duplication of services," Friedel wrote in his report.

"Combine these factors with the approaching retirements of upper management, and this leads us to a timeframe of opportunity to create a more efficient model for the delivery of fire and emergency medical services to Eastern Boulder County."

The Rocky Mountain Fire Protection District's 28,000-population service area covers a 55-square-mile region west and south of Lafayette and Superior. It has 45 full-time employees and an operating budget of $9.6 million.

Klaphake earlier this week suggested the working group would be formed sometime this fall, and a recommendation on how to move forward could manifest a year from now.

Copyright 2018 Daily Camera

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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