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10 years after fatal floods, Larimer County Sheriff seeks funding for county helicopter for future emergencies

Larimer County has designs on rescue helicopter one decade after 2013 flooding
Larimer County has designs on rescue helicopter one decade after 2013 flooding 03:02

It has been 10 years since historic rainfall resulted in fatal floods in both Larimer and Boulder counties. The floods caused critical highways between the mountains and cities to wash out, destroying homes and businesses along the way.  

It took many years for the roadways, homes and businesses to be rebuilt. But as time passes, many are continuing to adapt and learn from the tragic floods of 2013.  

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office has officially proposed the purchase of a helicopter to the county for consideration. The LCSO team hopes the purchase and operation of a county-operated helicopter will save lives, money and resources in future emergency response situations.  


Justin Whitesell, Emergency Operations Director for LCSO, is leading the team that would operate the proposed helicopter. He was working in the same role for the sheriff's office in 2013 when they responded to the floods. Whitesell recalled emergency responders being trapped by washed-out roadways as they headed west up the canyons to provide aid.  

"Highways 34 and 36 were washing out behind them. So, we had people who were stuck," Whitesell said. "We quickly realized that we needed to start rescuing people that were stuck on the wrong side of the river and had no way to evacuate because the bridges had been washed out." 


Larimer County asked the National Guard for assistance with their aerial resources. However, Whitesell said the helicopters were already being used in Boulder County which significantly delayed Larimer County's ability to respond in a similar manner.  

Whitesell said it wasn't just in 2013 that the county has had difficulties securing resources in the air for many different emergency situations. 

"It has been a struggle to get aviation resources in a timely manner," Whitesell said.  

That is why Whitesell said his team is hoping to secure more than $7 million to purchase a LCSO helicopter and operate it.  

"We would respond to search and rescue, wild land fire, flood incidents (and more)," Whitesell said.  

The plan, for now, is that the helicopter would have the ability to carry a bucket that could be used to combat fires that are threatening homes and property on non-U.S. Forest land.  


More importantly, Whitesell said the helicopter would come with the capability and resources to help people in remote locations on the ground.  

"It would have hoist capabilities to lower folks down to hike in, or we can hoist patients or victims out of the area as well," Whitesell said.  

The Larimer County Sheriff's Office hopes a future with a helicopter of their own will allow the agency to be more proactive and rapid in their responses. It would also help them cut the commute time down significantly, as some portions of the county are more than two hours away from Fort Collins when driving.  

LCSO also said the helicopter would give them the ability to reach remote destinations and assess different emergencies so they would know how many resources are needed.  

Whitesell said, if the helicopter was available today, it would likely be needed at least four-to-six times per week.  

RELATED: Lyons remembers deadly Colorado floods 10 years later, reflects on recovery

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