—Crestone

The Baca Grande Volunteer Fire Department, from which three firefighters resigned in November, has suffered another big staff loss with the resignation of Fire Chief Ben Brack on December 12.  Additional firefighters have also resigned and more resignations are expected within the next week.  This could bring the active number of firefighters down to 5 or fewer, according to one firefighter.  A white flag has been flying at the Baca fire station, which signifies that not many firefighters are present and sends a signal of caution to the community to be alert.

Baca Grande Fire Department Equipment Manager Jim Vanderpool is currently serving as acting fire chief. The POA is advertising for a new Baca fire chief as a part time position.

In October, the number of Baca volunteer firefighters on the roster was around 22—3 years ago it was 27. Some reasons cited for the haemorrhage of firefighters include low morale and lack of stable leadership at the Baca Grande Property Owners Association (POA), a private corporation which owns the fire department.  Several firefighters who talked to this reporter said they felt there has been a lack of support and ongoing hostility towards Baca firefighters. Other firefighters left for other reasons, such as moving away, but their numbers have not been replaced.

In December, the POA board cut the fire department’s budget for salaries for the two paid positions of fire chief and equipment manager from $63,000 to $30,000. Brack said that “this was done without notification and without a plan to implement the new budget or run the fire department.” The budget reduction meant a savings on POA dues of approximately $7 per lot.

Chief Brack stated “I feel the POA is not a stable or responsible enough organization to run emergency services.  As a 14-year veteran of our response services, I can’t continue to serve under people who put personal agendas above public safety.”  There have been four POA general managers and two interim managers in the past two and a half years.

Many of the firefighters who recently resigned from the Baca are already members of the Crestone Volunteer Fire Department, which is part of the Northern Saguache County Fire Protection District. Brack, who has also been and remains the Crestone Fire Chief, emphasized that the former Baca firefighters “continue to serve on the Crestone fire department and will respond to any fires in the Baca as per our mutual aid agreements.  We are well-trained people trying to serve our community. People want to serve.” Adding, “Northern Saguache is doing everything it can to equip the fire fighters and provide mutual aid to its neighbors in the Baca.”

Another firefighter said, regarding the low levels of active personnel at the Baca, “our numbers have been reduced to a level that is insufficient for an emergency fire response.”

The POA Community Manager and the POA Board President were asked if they wished to respond to points in this article.