Small fire brings big appreciation for responders

BurkheadImageUseThisOneI have a friend who had a close call with a house fire one morning last week.
It turned out, thank goodness, not to be anything very serious. But it had the potential to have been so much worse. Say this friend had already left for work, she most likely would’ve returned to find her house had burned to the ground.
Fortunately, however, she was home at the time, heard a window crack, discovered the fire, which started outside, and called 911. This was one of several calls the Meeker Fire Department responded to last week, in what turned out to be a busy one for the Meeker firefighters.
None of the fires turned out to be major. However, when the volunteer members of the fire department respond to a call, they never know what they will find when they arrive on the scene. It could be something as minor as pancakes burning in a high-school cooking class, which set off the smoke alarm last Friday, or a rooftop heating unit at Barone Middle School setting off a smoke alarm, which led to the evacuation of students last Thursday.
But every call has to be taken seriously. The men and women of the county’s two volunteer fire departments — in Meeker and Rangely — treat every call in the same professional manner.
My friend said her close-call experience gave her a new appreciation for emergency personnel and what they do. That’s been my experience as well. As a reporter who covers fire and accident scenes, I’ve always been left with a profound appreciation for the men and women who skillfully respond to emergency situations.
So, thanks to all of the volunteers and staffs of the county’s fire, emergency medical services and law enforcement departments.
• • • • •
As busy as it was last week for Meeker’s Fire Department, the number of calls for the year is actually down.
“In 2007, we had 170, which is the highest I’ve ever known,” said Steve Allen, Meeker fire chief and a veteran of 18 years with the department. “We might make the 130 like we had last year, but probably not. We’ll probably end up around 120.”
The numbers of calls is also down for the Rangely Fire Department and both towns’ emergency medical services.
“Typically, we have about 170 or 180, and so far we’re at about 100,” said Mike Cushman, Rangely’s fire chief. “Runs are down. It’s just not as busy for some reason. That’s just the trend for this year. It’s been a pretty quiet year. We haven’t had any major fires. It’s just been one of those things.”
“It goes in spurts,” said Meeker fire chief Allen. “Although when the cold weather hits, like it did last week, you have more problems, because people are using their stoves a lot more, you have chimney fires, people are putting warm ashes outside, that sort of thing.
“You may have a really slow month,” Allen continued, “but you have to be prepared, just like you would for those months when you have 30 calls.”
Weather — like last week’s sub-zero temperatures — not only contributes to more of certain types of calls this time of year, but it can pose problems for responders.
“Our biggest thing is slippin’, because you can’t run a fire truck without getting water here and there,” Allen said. “And a lot of times our breathing apparatus will freeze up, and trucks will freeze up. You get out in that kind of weather for any amount of time, and trucks start freezing up. It’s a challenge.”
Rangely’s Cushman agreed, saying, “When you’re out there and our stuff starts freezing and there’s snow on the road, it creates problems.”
For both the Meeker and Rangely fire departments, activity spiked during the oil and gas boom.
“We had a lot more wrecks, I can tell you that,” said Rangely’s Cushman, who also doubles as a volunteer with the emergency medical services, which is operated by Rangely District Hospital. “So, yeah, the energy (boom) was a big deal.”
Meeker’s Allen agreed.
“There were more people and there was more activity then,” Allen said. “You were taking your life in your own hands going to Rifle. We had a lot more people from not around here, and they weren’t used to the roads and the conditions. And with a lot of industrial activity, you had rig accidents.
“I have to give credit, too, to the sheriff’s department,” Allen added. “They have somebody down there (in the Piceance Basin) all the time. I’m just glad things aren’t like 2007 anymore.”
Kris Borchard, director of Meeker’s emergency medical services, said EMS runs were higher during the energy boom.
“We had a lot of car accidents during that period of time, just because there were a lot more vehicles traveling those roads then,” Borchard said. “And the sheriff office’s presence in Piceance made a huge difference.”
Borchard said Meeker’s EMS has 214 runs so far this year.
“Last year at this time, we had 241, so we’re down a little bit,” Borchard said. “Predictably, during hunting season we’re busier, but we didn’t have as many hunting-related incidents this year.”
Emergency calls tend to go in spurts.
“In October, we transported 36 patients. Last year, in October we transported 21. But we only had nine calls this November. Last year, we had a total of 19 in November. So, there’s no way to predict,” Borchard said.
Shanna Kinney of Rangely’s EMS, said runs are down on the west end of the county, too.
“I am definitely down from this time last year,” Kinney said. “Last year, we had like 377 runs. Right now, I’m in the mid 200s. There were a lot last year, and I had a lot the year before that.
“In one sense, it means people are healthy and they’re being more cautious when driving, but there aren’t as many people in our community (as during the energy boom), which means business is down,” Kinney said. “It affects the economy overall.”
• • • • •
Emergency personnel train continuously, and they always stand ready to put that training to use. But at the same time, they don’t like to see those situations that require a need for their services.
“It’s kind of a catch-22, like doctors and nurses,” Meeker’s fire chief Allen said. “They don’t like seeing people sick, but when you do something good to help people, you feel good about it. You don’t like to go on runs (involving a serious incident). In reality, you’d much rather go get a cat out of a tree, rather than put a fire out at somebody’s house.”
While emergency personnel train to keep their skills honed, they’d just as soon not have to put them to use. As Rangely fire chief Cushman said, “You don’t wish bad things on anybody, by no means.”
Added Meeker EMS director Borchard, “It’s a funny world that we live in … because firemen and EMTs train constantly, so you want to be able to use your skills. But you don’t want to have to respond, because it means somebody is sick or hurt. But we’re ready when something goes wrong.”
• • • • •
For volunteer departments like Meeker and Rangely’s, recruiting new members is ongoing.
“We’re always looking for members. Retention is hard. Membership swings back and forth,” Rangely fire chief Cushman said. “We can recruit a lot of people, but trying to get ’em to stay is the hard part.”
Added Meeker EMS director Borchard, who will be teaching a basic EMT class through Colorado Northwestern Community College, “We’re always looking for volunteers. We’re always looking for more people, so we don’t burn out the people we have.”
• • • • •
Laura Tyler, a dog trainer from Craig, who has taught obedience training classes in Meeker, will have a book signing from 3-5 p.m. Friday at Avis’ Village Floral in Meeker.
The children’s book, “The Story of Little Beaky Robin,” is a book about a bird, not a dog.
“I know it’s not a book about dog training, but, really, it is,” Tyler said. “It’s what my colleagues would call cross-species training.
“When I first found Little Beaky Robin, his health and safety were my main concerns,” Tyler continued. “I never imagined it would become a book for kids. And I certainly didn’t know if the story of Beaky would have a happy ending. … I began writing about it in my journal and taking lots of pictures. … Once Beaky flew off to be a wild bird, I sat down and finished his story. I sent it out via e-mail to a few friends and their response was overwhelming — write a book.”
Copies of Tyler’s book are available at
• • • • •
Reed Kelley, local rancher and political activist, stopped me Monday to let me know that, in a story in last week’s paper, I incorrectly referred to Colorado having “three” state senators.
“Anybody who has taken a high school civics class knows each state only has two senators,” Reed said. “It wouldn’t have been so bad if you wouldn’t have mentioned it again later in the story.”
Reed followed it up with, “What do you think your college journalism professor, who would give students a failing grade for misspelling a name in a story, would have done?”
“He would’ve given me an F,” I said.
“Yep,” Reed agreed.
Thanks, Reed, for keeping me on my toes.
• • • • •
Meeker sophomore Christopher Ruckman had surgery Dec. 3 in Grand Junction to remove blockage in a kidney. Monday was his first day back in school.
“He’s doing good,” said his mother, Jo Ann. “His surgery was long, five hours and two more in recovery. The first option didn’t work where they were going to go in and try to take the blockage out. They had to go up underneath the kidney. What happened was, when he got hit in football, his kidney leaked and formed scar tissue. So when they went in the first time, they hit that scar tissue and he started bleeding real bad. But he still has his kidney. That would have been the easy route, to take out a kidney. That’s really common, but they saved his kidney.
“We’ll have to have another surgery in January to have the stent removed,” JoAnn said. “We really have to watch for infection, and he has some congestion in his chest, which is something you always have to watch for after surgery. But he doesn’t have any more tubes. He had a tube in his back since Oct. 16, which was to drain his blocked kidney. He was tired of that. The kids at school, they had a sweat pants day in honor of Christopher, because that’s what he had to wear, which was nice of them.”
• • • • •
Meeker’s Mountain Valley Bank employees prepared and served a home-cooked Christmas dinner Sunday for residents of the Walbridge Wing, something they’ve been doing now for several years.
“Initially, it started the Christmas after we started the bank in 2004,” said assistant vice president Becky Hindman. “My husband, Gary, came up with the idea. Since then, the employees have put together a home-cooked Christmas dinner. I have gotten the Christmas packages together, with suggestions from the (Walbridge) activities director, Jean Gianinetti. The last two years, I’ve had Mike Dinwiddie and his congregation (The Church at Meeker) sing Christmas carols. Santa then shows up and distributes the gifts, which really brightens (the residents’) day. For a lot of these folks, it may be their last Christmas, and some do not have family in the area.”
• • • • •
Beginning Dec. 1, the county’s motor vehicle department began accepting credit cards for payment of vehicle transaction fees.
“This is accomplished through Colorado Payport, a Colorado state governmental service, which charges a portal administration fee of 2.7 percent per transaction to cover the direct and indirect costs (overhead) absorbed by Colorado Interactive to provide portal services,” said County Clerk Nancy Amick. “This administration fee is passed onto the customer, in addition to their vehicle transaction fees. If a customer is between paychecks and looking at a pending late-renewal penalty, the option to use a credit card would be beneficial.
“We are also scheduled to go with online vehicle renewals in early 2010, but a definite date has not been set by the state as yet,” Amick added. “Hopefully, we will be able to expand the acceptance of credit cards to other functions of the office at some point in the future, but it is presently limited to motor vehicle transactions.”
• • • • •
According to national news reports, General Motors is rethinking its decision to close some of its dealerships, which included Meeker’s Northwest Auto. But, so far, no word yet, said co-owner Doug Overton.
“I don’t know much more than you,” Overton said. “I am supposed to be getting a letter in January.”
• • • • •
Recently, the five local high school students who took a ground-school class taught by David Cole, former director of CNCC’s aviation program, traveled to Denver to fly an Airbus simulator.
“They all got to play on a $17 million video game,” said Cole, who was a captain with United Airlines and used to fly the Airbus.
The students were Shannon Anderson, Nate Bradfield, Dakota Giao, Logan Sanderson and Ryan Wix.
“Everyone of them is a straight-A student. It’s been a pretty neat experience for me, as the instructor, to see how their minds work,” Cole said.
• • • • •
I know Meeker has had a reputation as wrestling school, but this may be going too far. The program for last weekend’s Cowboy Shootout boys’ tournament included referee signals for wrestling, instead of basketball. Oops.
Rangely’s Kindal Cushman, however, who competes in both sports — wrestling and basketball — feels right at home on the court as well as on the mat. In fact, during last Thursday’s first-round basketball game, Kindal’s father, Mike, shouted from the stands, “Take down!”
• • • • •
Sitting close to the court during basketball games, in order to take photos, I’m in a position to hear many of the coaches’ comments. At one point during a Rangely game at the Cowboy Shootout, Panther coach Mark Skelton shouted from the sideline for a certain play to be run. However, the players on the court ran a different play, or perhaps it was no play at all, yet it accomplished the desired result — a basket.
“That’ll work, too,” Skelton said somewhat amused. “That’ll work better.”
• • • • •
While covering an event over the weekend, I had someone ask me, “Do you have a new hair style?”
“No,” I said.
“Well, are you using a new hair product?” the person asked.
“No,” I said again. “This is just the way my hair looks after having worn a stocking cap all day.”
I guess I better keep a hat on.
• • • • •
The Herald Times staff had a potluck dinner last weekend for the holidays, and everyone brought something to eat.
I decided to make a chicken and rice recipe that Meeker artist Pat Daggett gave me. When I told people what I was bringing, I said confidently, “It’s so easy, even I can make it.”
Turns out, that wasn’t quite true.
At least there was plenty of other good food to eat.

Jeff Burkhead is editor of the Herald Times. You may e-mail him at