Fire rehab volunteers aid Colo. firefighters

The 15-year-old Fire Rehab Services is operated by volunteers who take food and drinks to fire scenes

By Ryan Maye Handy
The Gazette 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It was a hot Sunday afternoon and the flames that chewed their way up the house had long been extinguished. But the firefighters who responded to the blaze just southwest of Falcon would be working for a few more hours, tromping around the burned home and sweating in their bunker gear.

Once the flames are out, that's when the Fire Rehab Services vehicles show up, leaded with waters and Gatorade, snacks and sometimes fans and lawn chairs. Run by 15 volunteers through the Pikes Peak Firefighters Association, Fire Rehab brings relief for crews who can spend hours making sure a house is safe. And on Sunday, while firefighters from two eastern county fire districts checked the home for hotspots, volunteers Lynn Vansickler and Jim Hatfield were there with a cooler of water.

"Hot days are killers for firemen because of all their bunker gear," said Hatfield, who explained that the gear is designed to keep heat out, but that it also keeps body heat in.

The 15-year-old volunteer program was created to help El Paso County's eastern, and mostly rural, fire departments keep their firefighters hydrated and nourished while cleaning up from structure fires. The eastern-county fire departments, including the Tri-Lakes Monument Fire Protection District, pay a fee to generate the group's a minimum budget of $15,000 a year. That money buys drinks, snacks and full-fledged meals -- on long jobs, Hatfield will drive in his homemade chuckwagon and cooking hamburgers for the fire crews.

Sunday's operation wasn't likely to require a catered meal, but the heat prompted the volunteers to bring out a couple of coolers of drinks for the crews while they worked on the 1800 block of Postrock Drive, in a suburban neighborhood north of U.S. Highway 24 between Marksheffel Road and Constitution Avenue.

Around 1:30 p.m., what crews suspect was a trash fire ignited outside of home on Postrock, and quickly ignited a discarded sofa and corner of the house near the trash. As the fire worked its away up home's siding, neighbors tried to put it out with garden hoses, said Robin Widmar, a spokeswoman for Falcon Fire Protection District. When firefighters from Falcon and the Cimarron Hills Fire Department arrived, the flames were extinguished within an hour. The house was saved, but the damage was done: flames burned up the side of the house into the attic, and caused a roof to collapse on the second floor, said Widmar.

The house had heavy smoke damage and the blaze displaced all five tenants and their three dogs, Widmar said. There were no injuries to firefighters or occupants; the cause of the trash fire was still under investigation as of Sunday evening.

Compared to other fires, Sunday's Fire Rehab work was simple, just a couple of hours of support. The group brought out one of its two old ambulances, relabeled as Fire Rehab, with more drinks. If the crews wanted, the volunteers could set up a shade-tent for them to sit under, instead of huddling on the shaded bumper of the fire engine. On more severe fires, the Fire Rehab will set up camp for several hours with firefighters, as it did during the 2013 Black Forest fire and the 2002 Hayman fire, said Vansickler.

On Sunday, more than an hour after the fire was out, crews were still working, walking in and out of the home. The Fire Rehab volunteers, however, were still standing by and in the driveway placed a cooler of drinks, ready for the taking.

"Usually we leave when the last truck pulls out," said Hatfield.


(c)2015 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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