Sep 182012

Author: Kristin Hall

Photo Courtesy of Carol Dollard

Photo Courtesy of Carol Dollard

Q: How long have you been working at CSU? 

A: Since 1999.

Q: How long have you been a volunteer firefighter? 

A: Since 1984 – I have been captain for several years.

Q: How does the High park fire compare to others you have seen? 

A: I have said that I spent more time working as a firefighter in June on the High Park Fire than I have in my previous 28 years of firefighting combined.  While that is technically probably not true, High Park was definitely orders of magnitude bigger than anything we had been involved with before.

Q: Have you ever fought fires that came so close to home before?

A: I have never had a fire come that close to MY home before. The fire took two outbuildings but spared my house and detached garage — coming just a few feet from those buildings in a few places.  However, we fight fires close to other people’s homes pretty regularly — that is part of the job.

Q: What were some of your thoughts on the High Park Fire as a firefighter as well as a resident of the area?

A: I don’t know if I can separate the two.  It was hard to be an evacuee and a firefighter.  I was staying with my daughter in town, so after a long day working as a firefighter on the hill, I had to drive to southeast Fort Collins to get a shower, a hot meal and a bed for a few hours before going back to work.  I can speak to the euphoria of seeing my house three days into the fire – knowing it was still there.  However, there was still stress because there were still fires burning around so you never knew each day if the wind would come back and take more homes, even ones like mine that were spared by the inferno of the first few days.  It was also hard as we could get into some areas and we learned that many of our friends had lost their homes. Roughly 1 in 4 residents of the Rist Canyon area lost their homes and many more lost shops, barns or other outbuildings.

Q: What are some of the most memorable moments as a volunteer firefighter? 

A: On this fire it is hard to pick out one memory.  It was a three-week roller coaster ride of physical and emotional challenges.  I think the most moving for me was the outpouring of support for the firefighters from the residents and the greater Fort Collins community.  The signs and people waving at us as we came home for the night were very encouraging.  During the last week of the fire I had to be “acting chief” because my fire chief had to go on a business trip. As volunteer firefighters we do have other “real” jobs.  During that week I had to attend planning meetings and the daily community briefing.  By this time, people had been out of their homes for more than two weeks so I was afraid of a hostile environment at the community meeting.  However, they were all incredibly gracious and thankful for our work as firefighters. Even those people who had lost their homes would come up to me and hug me and say thanks for what we had done.

Q: What are some of your favorite parts of working at CSU? 

A: In general I love working at CSU because we have lots of great people here and they let us do some incredible things.  During the fire I was incredibly proud of what my coworkers in CSU Facilities did to build a “city” (incident command) for 2,000 people on Foothills Campus virtually overnight.  They had to run electrical wires, build roads, set up water connections.  In addition, (CSU Housing and Dining) opened up some residence halls so the professional firefighters from across the country could sleep in a bed instead of in a tent on the ground and actually get a hot shower.  That level of effort doesn’t happen as seamlessly as it did without a lot of great people.


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