County declines to pay for city's fire-fighting effort

City Councilwoman Kathy Connell said 'gesture of goodwill' should have been made

— If Steamboat Springs officials expect for the city's fire department to be reimbursed for wildland fires, then the city must rejoin the Wildland Fire Council.

Although the Steamboat Springs Fire Department responded to a wildland fire this past summer, Routt County has declined to reimburse the department for its work. Routt County commissioners recently decided the Steamboat Springs department would not be reimbursed for the June 29 Walton Creek Fire.

The blaze on U.S. Forest Service land cost the department almost $1,800.

Routt County commissioners based the decision on two factors:

The Steamboat department is no longer a member of the Wildland/Urban Interface Council Memorandum of Understanding.

A survey of current Wildland Council members shows those members overwhelmingly oppose the reimbursement.

"The majority of our members felt that if the city is not a member of the (Memorandum of Understanding), the county should not reimburse the city," Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said.

Earlier this year, the Steamboat Rural Fire Protection District and the city refused to sign the Memorandum of Understanding. Members of the agreement are reimbursed by the county for manpower and equipment used to fight wildfires in the county.

The city declined to participate because the county would not pay for three new trucks and nine new firefighters for the city.

The need for the new fire trucks and firefighters came out of a study done by the Wildland Fire Council last year, which consisted of the county, city, Steamboat Rural, Oak Creek, Yampa, West Routt and the North Routt Fire Protection Districts, along with the state and U.S. Forest Service.

Although, the city did not sign the agreement, it did respond to the Walton Creek Fire.

Assistant Fire Chief Bob Struble and five firefighters performed the first wave of control on the fire started by a lightning strike. The firefighters worked for eight hours until forest service crews arrived at the fire six miles west of Steamboat.

Because of the work, the Fire Department incurred a cost of $1,748, which includes equipment costs, supplies and manpower, Struble said.

Because of the response, Steamboat Councilwoman Kathy Connell in July requested the county, "as a gesture of good faith," reimburse the city for fighting the fire.

"I'm disappointed," Connell said of the county's decision. "Gestures of good will regarding this issue are important to work out our differences. We all need to have gestures of good will to come to a common ground."

Connell is hopeful the recent national tragedy will force county and city officials to reexamine the issue.

"I'm anxious to revisit this," she said. "Let's take a new view of this problem and have a collaborative effort.

"I'm looking forward to a renewed attitude from all participants to sort out who pays and how we do it together."

Stahoviak wants the city and the rural district to rejoin the MOU.

"We have a (Memorandum of Understanding) that has worked to the benefit of our partners," she said. "I would hope the city would become a formal partner of the district."

The county and the city will have an opportunity to work out their differences during meetings the county will host later this fall, Stahoviak said.

Current members of the agreement, along with Steamboat officials, will be invited to the meetings, she said.

"This is a cooperative effort that includes a lot of different entities," Stahoviak said. "It is important for everyone to be at the table."

If the city should rejoin the Wildland Council, Stahoviak said it is not out of the question the county would retroactively reimburse the city for wildland fires.

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