All Fired Up
Discussed and debated for decades, the new West Vail Fire Station is a 15,000-square-foot, $5 million firefighting Taj Mahal at the Interstate 70 interchange where a Wendy’s restaurant once stood. It sleeps twelve, has a dedicated workout facility, offers copious amounts of administrative space, and—most importantly—improves response times in West Vail by up to 60 percent and throughout Vail by up to 35 percent.
But given the scale of Vail’s “New Dawn” renaissance, which over the past five years has brought a slew of new, sometimes titanic, upscale hotels and condominium redevelopments, the new fire station only partially closes the gap in a game of catch-up to get Vail’s firefighting services where they need to be, according to former Vail Fire Chief Mark Miller.
Miller says national recommendations call for fourteen to seventeen firefighters to respond to a typical structure fire. With one company of three firefighters on duty at each of Vail’s three stations, Miller says he can now respond with nine or ten firefighters on a good day.
“We’re still going to have to supplement by bringing in off-duty guys and mutual aid [from other towns], but compared to where we were the last thirty years, this is a huge improvement,” Miller says, discounting the oft-discussed notion that the town should now sell its main Vail station because it’s prime real estate.
The cost of Vail Valley real estate has forced some of his firefighters to live in other towns and some to move to Denver in search of a lower cost of living. A renovated main Vail station, with housing in the heart of Vail Village, would obviously help keep more staff in town.
“What maybe folks missed in the whole thirty years of conversation and studies and hiring consultants is it’s not ‘build a new station so you can get rid of one of the old ones,’” Miller said. “It’s ‘build a third one because you need a third one for that additional company.’”
A judge in the early 1980s ordered the town of Vail to do all it could to build a station in West Vail, which sees twice as many calls as the East Vail station. It took decades, but the new station, at least according to the chief, has been “a huge blessing.”