North Metro Fire Board Supports Growth of Fire District
North Metro Fire is governed by its 5-member board of directors, who provide oversight of the District's budget, strategic planning and policies. In 2020, board members played a crucial role in approving additional funding for the District's response to COVID-19 and support for firefighter safety. They approved additional positions needed to meet the community's needs for emergency services and fire prevention services. Thanks to the board's support, North Metro Fire was able to continue to deliver a high level of service to its customers during an extraordinary and challenging year.
Board of Directors (L to R from top row): President Richard Miller, Vice President Peter Billera, Treasurer Tim Long, Secretary Jenni Murphy, and Asst. Secretary Robert Nielsen
Additional Personnel Hit the Ground Running in Race Against COVID-19
At the core of North Metro Fire’s mission is its preparedness to handle all types of emergencies and hazards. Nothing would test that mission more than the arrival of the Coronavirus (COVID-19); and yet, nothing would show the strength and ability of North Metro Fire more than its response in 2020. As the pandemic reached the United States, North Metro Fire recognized the impending threat to its patients, employees and community at large. The District quickly implemented solutions to minimize the risk of exposure and provide the best patient care possible during an unprecedented era.
With support from its board of directors, in January 2020, North Metro Fire allocated a dedicated emergency medical services (EMS) supervisor to each shift. The District also dedicated a captain to serve as emergency manager for the organization. Not knowing what was to follow weeks later, the creation of these positions could not have come at a better time.
Led by EMS Chief Mark Daugherty, EMS Supervisors Mike Dawson, Randy Delaney and James Hunt were instrumental in developing departmental and patient care guidelines around COVID-19, delivering essential protective equipment to crews, decontaminating ambulances, providing training and education, and assisting the District in navigating uncharted territory. Meanwhile, Emergency Manager Ross Riley and his team worked with local and state agencies in developing community response plans and tracked key data and trends to further assist the fire district in its response to the pandemic.
Additionally, the District’s highly skilled Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Team stepped up to develop and implement decontamination procedures for stations, apparatus and employees in order to provide the safest environment for first responders to work and care for residents. The Hazmat Team conducted multiple staff trainings on proper decontamination procedures and equipment use and also developed educational videos to educate the public on how to best use their masks and gloves to minimize exposure to the virus. As a result of proactive and robust safety measures adopted early on and dedicated efforts by its employees, North Metro Fire’s operational ability and staffing levels were never compromised at any time last year – an incredible accomplishment during a very challenging and dynamic period.
Proactive Measures and Community Generosity Prevent Supply Shortage
As the pandemic spread, educating and protecting the community and its first responders weren't the only challenges for the fire district. Sustaining a necessary supply of protective equipment became a top priority. While many regional partners and fire departments struggled to keep essential supplies such as gloves, masks and gowns stocked, North Metro Fire, in anticipation of shortages, redirected the focus of its Training Division and created a logistics team to procure supplies. Throughout the year, North Metro Fire was fortunate to maintain adequate protective equipment and decontamination supplies. Additionally, the District utilized CARES Act grants to purchase specialized equipment for decontamination, which was essential for patient safety.
The District’s ability to maintain a sufficient inventory of protective equipment was in large part due to the generous donations and partnerships with individuals and businesses within the community. Allen, a Broomfield-based company that specializes in hunting and tactical gear, produced and generously donated hundreds of gowns and masks to the District. Many others within the community donated protective equipment, decontamination supplies, and hand sanitizer to the District, not to mention meals to support the crews. As a result of this planning and community generosity, equipment shortages did not occur, and employees stayed protected and prepared to respond, while also being able to ensure the protection of its residents in need.
Added Risks Call for Changes to Safely Care for Patients
As science continued to evolve surrounding COVID-19, North Metro Fire's EMS leaders were tasked with delivering top-level emergent medical care while also minimizing the potential spread of the virus. By amending protocols and utilizing specialized equipment, North Metro firefighters were able to do just this.
Check out this story that illustrates one way the District implemented a safer way to care for patients with respiratory problems last year.
New Firefighters Train for the Job Both Virtually and In Person
Emergency operations wasn't the only area impacted by the pandemic in 2020. Even training the next generation of firefighters required creativity and adjustments. In August, the North Area Fire Academy (NAFA) was scheduled to train more than 50 firefighter recruits from six area fire departments. Instead, the fire academy was split into three training pods. Each pod was trained on the same curriculum and techniques, but in a smaller group to minimize COVID-19 risk. North Metro Fire and Thornton Fire partnered to host a fire academy that included a mix of virtual training and in-person training. The trainees persevered and showed their dedication and resilience, with 15 graduating to join the North Metro Fire family. None of it would have been a success without the dedicated efforts of the NAFA training instructors, including North Metro Fire's Captain John Daugherty, Captain Jason Crownover, Lieutenant Craig Eisenreich and Lieutenant Rob Perry.
Call Volume Drops, But Severity of Calls Increases
For the first time in recent history, call volume dropped in 2020. This was a trend seen in emergency services across the country, as many people avoided calling 911 or seeking medical attention for fear of being exposed to the virus. While the number of calls decreased in 2020, the severity of the calls increased. First responders in the District saw much sicker patients and more trauma patients than in previous years. Additionally, the time spent on scene and following each emergency increased as firefighters took extra precautions to keep patients safe and thoroughly decontaminate ambulances and equipment between calls.
Fire Calls Rise in 2020
While EMS operations demanded a large focus of leadership's attention, the fire district still had thousands of other emergency calls it responded to throughout the year. In fact, the District received more fire calls than it has in the past several years. Even though fires make up a smaller proportion of the overall call volume, they also remain the most labor and resource intensive incidents for the District.
North Metro Fire's Special Teams Shine Both Locally and Nationally
All of North Metro’s firefighters are trained to handle a variety of emergencies, but a few of its members go through additional training and certification to serve on one or more of North Metro Fire’s specialized teams: Tech Rescue, Wildland and Hazardous Materials.
Even with challenges brought on by the pandemic, the special teams found ways to train for large-scale, high-risk incidents, and their training paid off. Members of the Tech Rescue Team and the Wildland Team were deployed to regional and out-of-state incidents in 2020.
For large-scale natural disasters, no one department, even with the help of neighboring fire departments, can handle the incident with their resources alone, while still providing emergency coverage for their own city or district. It takes a regional and sometimes national response. By deploying teams from other areas, the government is able to cover the response needs for the disaster without taxing any one department so much that they can’t provide emergency services for their own community. Deployed firefighters also gain vital experience they are able to bring back home to help plan and prepare for incidents within the District.
Community Welcomes New Fire Truck to Kick Off 2020
In 2020, North Metro Fire welcomed into service its new Truck 62. The fire district hosted a truck dedication ceremony at Station 62 in Northglenn in January. It was a huge hit with the community, with over 200 attending. Families enjoyed tours of the new fire truck, washing the wheels and helping push it into the fire station bay. Afterwards, firefighters served s'mores and hot chocolate to all who attended.
Newer Firefighting Unit Purchased for Airport Station
Located at Station 65 next to Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport sits the fire district's Aircraft Rescue Fire Fighting unit, better known as ARFF 65. After many years of use, ARFF 65 began experiencing extensive mechanical issues that would take it out of service for an extended time for repairs. In order to provide continuous service for aircraft fire response, Fire Chief David Ramos and the District's board of directors authorized the purchase of a gently used frontline ARFF for Station 65.
The District purchased a 2003 OshKosh Stryker ARFF with less than 500 engine hours and fewer than 3,000 miles. The newer apparatus has many impressive features that were not available on the old unit, such as a 1,500-gallon water tank, sophisticated thermal imaging, added lights and other enhancements. The newer ARFF went into service in 2021, and the District's old ARFF will be used as a reserve to support the airport station.
Renovation of Station 62 in Northglenn Nears Completion
Anyone driving along Huron Street north of 104th the past two years would notice construction activity at North Metro Fire Station 62. In 2019, the station received an exterior renovation, which included repairs to significant damage sustained during a storm as well as a facelift and improved firefighter training and safety features.
In 2020, the focus shifted to renovating the interior of the station, which hasn't been updated in 30 years. Station 62 was originally built in 1967 to house the District's first group of professional firefighters and the District's administration offices and fleet maintenance operations. In 1990, the station was expanded to add space for more administrative staff and a meeting space for public meetings.
Over the past 30 years, a lot of changes have occurred within the District, including the relocation of the District's administration offices to a separate building in Broomfield. Station 62's disjointed design has long been an inefficient space for use as a full-service fire station. As part of North Metro Fire's long-term capital planning strategy, construction began in 2020 to reconfigure and renovate the interior to optimize living and working space for firefighters. As part of the renovation, sleeping quarters and bathrooms were added, equipment was upgraded, energy efficiency was significantly enhanced, and multiple safety improvements were made. Firefighters have operated out of temporary housing on site throughout the construction period. The District is looking forward to completing the renovation of Station 62 in the spring of 2021 and will house a community open house later in the year when it is safe to do so.
Community Outreach Team Finds New and Creative Ways to Engage and Educate the Community
When schools shut down and in-person gatherings came to a halt, the Community Outreach Team switched gears to find alternative ways of reaching the community with safety education. Life Safety Educators Pam Kutchen and Sasha Story focused on delivering virtual classes, developing educational activity sheets for older adults confined to their residences, creating new risk reduction programs and delivering a revamped Fire Prevention Week.
Engaging the Public in a Virtual World
Community events and engagement looked a lot different in 2020. From posting educational videos online during the onset of the pandemic in the spring to organizing drive-by celebrations and putting together a virtual 9/11 Memorial Ceremony, the Community Outreach Team didn't let COVID-19 restrictions prevent the District from having a presence in the community.
Fire Prevention Week looked entirely different this past year. The Community Outreach Team created several new events that allowed for education while socially distanced. To kick off the week, they organized a fire safety scavenger hunt with missions families could complete at one of the in-person activity stations staffed by the Community Outreach Team and at home throughout the week. The team also partnered with local food banks to host a food drive and pass out fire safety materials. The food drive was a huge success, thanks to generous contributions from the community and North Metro Fire employees. The team also delivered virtual and socially distanced story time and school classes during the week and put together a special activity packet to deliver to older adults at independent and assisted living facilities. The team also coordinated a Fire Prevention Week art contest and employed the crews to deliver pizza to the lucky winners.
Fire Prevention Continues to See Growth in Community
One area less impacted by COVID-19 was the construction industry. As a result, North Metro's Fire Prevention Division stayed very busy handling plan reviews, permits and inspections. In fact, it was the third busiest year for the Fire Prevention Division in 20 years. While many services were handled remotely, the team adjusted in order to continue to deliver the necessary services to its customers.
Prior to 2020, North Metro Fire surveyed its construction customers for feedback on its fire prevention services. One of the most prominent messages received from customers was their desire for shorter turnaround times on submitted work. Customers also shared their support for an increase in fees, if it would result in shorter service times. Based on customer and community feedback, the District took steps to raise its fees to market levels in 2020. The new fee structure supported the addition of fire prevention staff, which helped achieve the District's goal of shorter service times in 2020. From 2019 to present, the Fire Prevention Division has reduced average turnaround time for construction plan review from 35 days to 8 days.
Another highlight of 2020 was the implementation of a new compliance database system for all inspection, testing and maintenance reports of fire protection systems in the District required by the fire code and conducted by 3rd party contractors. This new program greatly improves the reliability of all fire protection systems in the District and thus enhanced safety for residents and businesses.
While Firefighter/Paramedic Quinn Henson served 15 months of active duty for the U.S. Army, he earned an impressive reputation both on and off duty. He even put his paramedic skills to use in a lifesaving rescue!
Firefighter Matt Chan is a fitness machine, but he really showed his quickness and strength when he conquered professional athletes and other competitors in NBC's Titan Games this season. What a feat!
Thankful hearts and giving back
North Metro Fire was the recipient of great generosity this year as residents and businesses in the community graciously donated supplies, meals and more throughout the year to support first responders. In return, the District worked to pay it forward and supported the community through food drives, toy drives, school supply drives and also participated in numerous drive-by celebrations in 2020. Thank you to those in the community who have supported the District in each and every way!
Financial Planning and Grants Usher District Through 2020
During 2020, the District continued to update and adequately fund a sustainable long-term capital program. Through a high level of collaboration between staff and the board of directors, North Metro Fire's leaders ensured that the Capital Improvements Fund was sufficiently funded to support the District’s 10-year projected capital needs. The expenses of the Capital Improvements Fund provide safety equipment, replacement vehicles, apparatus, IT equipment, and facility remodeling/repairs.
The District enhanced emergency response capabilities and firefighter safety by staffing key positions at the end of 2020, which are essential to improving the timely deployment of emergency response resources, including adding a second battalion chief, a safety and medical officer, and a fourth firefighter to Engine 67.
The District also took advantage of lower interest rates by refinancing the Certificates of Participation and the General Obligation bonds in December 2020. The savings to the taxpayers based upon reduced interest will be approximately $440,000 over the next seven years.
The District had unbudgeted expenditures of approximately $1,000,000 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. North Metro Fire applied for and received grant monies from the CARES Act and other private COVID-19 grants totaling approximately $840,000 in 2020.