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Colo. FD to replace AMR as part of expansion plan

Peyton Fire Protection District officials are looking at in-house solutions to AMR’s response time, staffing problems


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By Savannah Eller
The Gazette

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — As population rises and costs increase, the Peyton Fire Protection District is embarking on a plan to expand the near volunteer force serving a section of unincorporated northeastern El Paso County.

Currently staffed with 17 volunteers and one full-time deputy chief, the district serves upward of 1,440 households, according to Chief Jeff Turner. The five-year plan he sees for the district includes decreasing response times by adding stations and bringing emergency medical services within the district.

The plan is similar to that of Colorado Springs as both entities look at possible ways to replace ambulance service American Medical Response with in-house EMS services. Fire protection districts in Falcon and other areas in El Paso County have implemented similar plans.

Turner said that bringing EMS into the purview of the district has been a long-term goal during ongoing contract disputes with the private ambulance provider. He said that the same response time and staffing issues that have plagued AMR in the city are compounded in the country.

PFPD firefighters call in helicopters frequently when AMR or adjoining fire department services are upward of 20 minutes away from a life-threatening medical emergency, according to Turner.

“Time is heart and time is brain,” he said, referring to life support priorities.

Another effort to decrease response times cleared one hurdle on Thursday, as a zoning exemption for a second, unmanned fire station in the northeast section of the district passed in a Board of El Paso County Commissioners land-use meeting.

The parcel, if later construction plans are approved, will house a fire truck, engine and water tender according to Turner. The station will also have a 30,000-gallon-capacity underground cistern, which he said will “substantially” decrease the insurance protection class rating of all residences within a 5-mile radius. While no one will man the station, volunteer firefighters will have a shorter commute to needed equipment, he said.

PFPD manager David Solin said that plans for the station have not been finalized, but that the district had been considering the new station “for several years.”

Both projects require funding, however, which could be a significant burden for a district tied to no municipality and which has a current year-to-year budget of about $300,000, according to Turner.

“It’s like juggling chainsaws,” he said.

The first phase of EMS services is set to start on June 1 with the district’s two ambulances and crews. All but one of the 17 volunteer firefighters are EMT-certified, meaning the district will be able to transport patients under a “basic life support” rating.

The next phase would be training or hiring paramedic-certified firefighters so that the ambulances could be run under “advanced life support,” which includes higher levels of in-transit care.

Turner said that a volunteer fire district has difficulty attracting any volunteers, much less those with lucrative qualifications like paramedic licensing.

“The volunteer pool is shrinking,” he said. “Most people don’t want to do it.”

PFPD volunteers undergo hours of monthly training and long overnight shifts. Turner said an overnight structure fire can leave an unpaid firefighter with a long day ahead.

“You’re coming off of that fire getting ready to go to work,” he said.

Prompt staffing is crucial for medical emergencies, which require at least one person to render aid while another drives. It’s also crucial for fast-developing wildfires, which Turner said are a concern around the Palmer Divide and the eastern edge of Black Forest.

Peyton firefighters were first responders to the Birdseye fire in 2021, in which a quick, multi-agency response was credited with preventing the blaze from threatening large nearby housing developments.

” Eastern El Paso County has had tremendous luck with wildfires,” said Turner.

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