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Boulder County Fire Departments Create Mass Evacuation Plan, Hold First-Ever Joint Training Exercise

BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - In the aftermath of the Marshall Fire, Boulder County fire departments are, for the first time, holding mass training exercises and developing a mass evacuation plan. Boulder, Boulder Rural, Lafayette, Louisville, Longmont and Mountain View are combining forces like never before.

"To where we're operating under the same policies to stop the incident before it gets too big," said Boulder Battalion Chief Chad Rennich.

In addition to their first-ever joint training academy, the six departments have established shared radio channels and are creating a uniform dispatch system says Rennich.

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"With simultaneous, real time GPS locations."

With limited resources and unprecedented fires, Rennich says Boulder's fire agencies can no longer operate in isolation and neither, he says, can structure and wildland firefighters, who use different tools, trucks, and protective gear.

"There's been the basic level of, 'Hey, there's a wildland fire. Let's go do it.' But, the detailed knowledge behind it, that's what's been getting ramped up."

Every firefighter is now getting more advanced cross-training and every engine is now being equipped with tools and protective gear for any type of fire.

Boulder Wildland Fire Chief Brian Oliver says even with the help of the structure fire crews, his six wildland firefighters have been on mandatory overtime since the start of the year. He says the county has had 21 red flag days in the last five months, more than double what it would ordinarily see in an entire year.

"Any spark can create a very fast-moving, very hard-to-control wildfire so we want to upstaff. That not only a huge cost-burden, but it's a huge physical and emotional burden."

Calls for fire mitigation assessments by homeowners have also soared. Oliver says they typically get a handful a month.

"We're over 400 in the cue."

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The Marshall Fire has driven home the need for not only all firefighters in the county to be prepared, but all homeowners. Oliver says the concept of "wildland urban interface" has changed,.

"Any place that backs to wildland whether it's grass, trees or anything else is susceptible."

He says the biggest takeaway from the Marshall Fire is the need to have an evacuation plan similar to what's deployed in a hurricane, where it's not just those along the coast - or in the case of a wildfire, adjacent to open space - who are evacuated. It's everyone in the vicinity.

"There's no line that says 'This is interface and this isn't.' We need to have a plan for evacuation," he said.

After all, it's not if there will be another major wildfire in Boulder County but when and where it will happen and Rennich says the more the fire agencies integrate and firefighters cross-train, the better the outcome for everyone.

"The 'It won't happen to me' mentality is a thing of the past. We have to be prepared at all times. Any hazard may come our way."

His hope is by creating more of a regional firefighting force where the closest engine responds regardless of jurisdiction, all six Boulder County fire departments will improve their responses to all emergencies.


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