Silverthorne fire station updates

Summit Fire & EMS is in the planning stages for a new fire station at the north end of Silverthorne. We will publish regular updates here. 

If you have other questions about our efforts to establish a new fire station in Silverthorne, please feel free to contact the SF&EMS Community Resource Officer at pio@summitfire.org. While we will answer your inquiry personally, your question may be one shared by lots of others in the community, and, if so, we also would like to include our response here.

Also, please revisit this page periodically, as we will provide updates in our progress in links added here.

Silverthorne fire station design possibility
One design concept being considered for the future Silverthorne fire station.

Every five years, the Insurance Services Offices, a national trade group, conducts evaluations of communities for fire safety – looking at resources such as water supplies and hydrants, proximity to fire stations, staffing and numbers of engines and fire trucks – and establishes risk ratings. Insurance companies often use these ratings to help determine policy prices. One of the key components in Summit County is whether a property is within a five-mile radius of a fire station. Because SF&EMS stored a reserve fire engine at the old, former Silverthorne fire station at 401 Blue River Parkway – even though since 2003 it had been used exclusively as an administration building, not a response station – it met the ISO standard as an “available resource” and extended our five-mile coverage north. When we vacated that building in 2019, we were allowed to lease a bay to continue keeping that engine there. But earlier this summer, when the town opened the art center, the lease ended. That meant that many properties at the north end of Silverthorne that had been within a five-mile radius of the Silverthorne facility no longer were within a five-mile radius of the next-closest response station, in Dillon. Essentially everything north of Three Peaks, including Summit Sky Ranch, no longer are within five miles of a fire station, and, as a result, the ISO rating went up for those areas. One short-term priority for SF&EMS has been to find at least a temporary home for a fire engine in Silverthorne, and, despite our best efforts to procure an enclosed, heated bay from both public and private organizations, we have not been able to do so.

Five-mile radius from SF&EMS Fire Station in Dillon

More precisely, the ISO ratings are aligned with actual road miles. This image shows the approximate limits of the five-mile radius from the fire station in Dillon, with the outer edge at:

  • Colorado 9 and Sage Creek Canyon Drive,
  • 2115 Golden Eagle, above the Raven Golf Course
  • 1575 Golden Eagle, north of Two Cabins
  • Hamilton Creek Trail and Hamilton Creek Road
  • Bald Eagle Road and Stonefly Drive in Angler Mountain Ranch
Five-mile radius from SF&EMS Fire Station in Dillon delineated

To determine your actual road distance, conduct an internet search of the distance from the Summit Fire & EMS station at 225 Lake Dillon Drive in Dillon to your address. If you are within five miles, you will be an ISO classification of 2. If you are within seven miles and have a fire hydrant within 1,000 feet of your occupancy, you will have an ISO classification of 10W.

Here is the letter ISO sent to the SF&EMS Fire Protection District Board of Directors summarizing the findings:

Here is the latest report from ISO on the Summit Fire & EMS Fire Protection District:

And here is a layman's description of the basic classification findings:  

Absolutely not. In fact, according to local insurance agents, the biggest factors affecting rising insurance rates in Summit County are increases in home values, inflation – which impacts home values, construction costs and, of course, insurance-company overhead – and losses from major events like wildfires throughout the state. Some insurance companies don’t even consider the ISO ratings, while others include it among a variety of factors that determine how much risk they’re willing to accept while remaining profitable. When a carrier experiences a year with higher than expected claims, it has to adjust premiums to cover losses and operating costs. Additionally, if you have filed a claim in recent years – burst water pipes are particularly common here – your rates likely will have gone up noticeably.

We have been unsuccessful to date in finding space in an existing facility to store a fire engine and push that ISO five-mile boundary further north. We’ve reached out to private organizations such as Murdoch’s and Xcel Energy to see if any of them had space available, and no one has been able to assist us. While we are continuing to search – recently we have had conversations with management at Buffalo Mountain Storage about the new units being built for recreational vehicles, although one would require some retrofitting to keep it heated – we also are exploring options such as erecting a sprung-steel tent structure or other relatively inexpensive, temporary structure on the site of our future fire station at the north end of town.

In 2017, Summit County approached us about teaming with what then was the Summit County Ambulance Service and building a joint administration building in the County Commons complex near Frisco. The county offered the land for free, and the potential for increased efficiency for both organizations was too good to pass up. We moved into our new administration building in 2019, and, coincidentally, also consolidated with Summit County Ambulance under the interim Summit Fire & EMS Authority. To pay for Summit Fire’s share of the new building, however, we agreed to sell our old administration building in Silverthorne – which had not been used as a response station for 15 years – to the Town of Silverthorne, which used it as a headquarters for much of the new construction of the Fourth Street Crossing development.

Ribbon-cutting on the new SF&EMS administration building in July of 2019.
Ribbon-cutting on the new SF&EMS administration building in July of 2019.

 

All of those answers are yet to be determined, but know that we have been in continual conversation with the architects and engineers at SEH on conceptual designs, which then will be followed by issuance of the RFP, acquisition of permits for planning, zoning and building, and then, finally, construction. We are trying to move as quickly as possible while also being responsible about spending tax dollars wisely.

Assuming that the planning, design and development all go according to the most optimistic time frame and that construction teams and materials are available, it’s conceivable that we would break ground in 2023 and have the first phase complete by the following year.

Summit Fire & EMS owns a site between the Town of Silverthorne’s maintenance facility and the Blue River Wastewater Treatment Plant, across Colorado 9 from the north entrance to Three Peaks.

Cottonwood site
Preliminary site plan for the proposed new Silverthorne fire station at 26300 Blue River Parkway, known as the “Cottonwood site.”

Yes, but … Officially, measure 6A in 2021 was aimed at off-setting the expiring “Strong Futures Fund” property-tax measure that Summit County voters had passed eight years earlier to subsidize the Summit County Ambulance Service. Last year, voters in the Summit Fire & EMS Fire Protection District did, by a 2-to-1 margin, approve raising property taxes from 9 mills to 13 mills, or an additional $28.80 in property tax for every $100,000 in assessed value. For a property valued at $500,000, the tax increased from $324 to $468, a difference of $144 annually. One of the selling points of the measure for residents in Silverthorne and north, of course, was that passage of the measure – which generates about $4.5 million in additional property taxes, the primary revenue source for SF&EMS – would allow the department to move forward with plans for a new fire station. Conversely, had the measure not passed, Summit Fire would not have the capital resources even to be considering building a new fire station for a number of years down the line. So yes, the property-tax measure did open the door for meeting the desire by Silverthorne residents and town officials for a new fire station, and work began on preliminary conceptual plans earlier this year. The issue is that, based on current call volume and average response times to Silverthorne and beyond, SF&EMS officials anticipated needing to build a new station in three to five years, not two to three years. The implications on the organization’s capital budget are significant, however, since the accelerated timeframe has outpaced the money we’ve been setting aside annually for a new facility.

Voter at SF&EMS special election 2021
SF&EMS Fire Protection District voters in 2021 approved a property-tax increase by a 2-to-1 margin, giving the department the financial flexibility to begin work on a new Silverthorne fire station.

Summit Fire & EMS has set aside $4.15 million in capital reserves to date, money which is slated for the new Silverthorne fire station. Fully built out, the facility would be projected to cost $8-10 million. Because of increasing pressures from the community primarily concerned with traffic bottlenecks between Silverthorne and our closest fully staffed response station in Dillon, we have decided to build a Silverthorne station in stages, establishing a bare-bones minimum facility at first and then expanding it as demand and capital budget funds increase. We are cognizant of the need to spend tax dollars wisely; however, we don’t want to incur dramatically higher extra expenses down the line to build additions just because we were trying to be speedy and frugal on the front end. We have been discussing everything from establishing a “surge” station that would be staffed only during anticipated busy times, to a simple two-bay facility in which half of one bay would be converted to temporary living quarters, to a larger three-bay installation that could be expanded easily. At this point in discussions with our architects, no final decision has been made. SF&EMS has been searching for federal and state grants which may be available for facility construction. Importantly, a fully staffed, 24-hour response station with up to a four-person engine crew and a two-person ambulance crew costs about $1 million annually in salaries, building maintenance and supplies. Summit Fire and its predecessors always have taken pride in being debt-free so that our taxpayers are not burdened with the costs of interest on loans, and we traditionally have paid cash for new engines and other major capital expenses, including the construction of our new administration building. The department will consider alternative funding to pay for a new fire station.

old Silverthorne fire station
The old Silverthorne Fire Department fire station at 401 Blue River Parkway became the administration building for Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and subsequently Summit Fire & EMS before being sold to the town and transformed into the art center.

While some of that money must be set aside legally under the restrictions of the TABOR Amendment, we are tapping into those reserves in part to pay for the fire station. Already, $4 million in capital expenditures has been earmarked for construction of the Silverthorne fire station.

Summit Fire also has been in discussions with Silverthorne officials to determine if the town has resources available to contribute toward building a new fire station most efficiently. One concern is that the town a few years ago established a tax-incremented financing program (known as a “TIF”), which diverts property taxes from new development over a 25-year period to support urban renewal. (Even though the Town of Silverthorne and the Summit Fire & EMS Fire Protection District are separate governmental organizations, this is one situation in which the town can affect the taxes that would have been collected by the fire district.) As a result, Summit Fire has not been receiving its “expected” share of property taxes generated from the new hotels, restaurants, condominiums and townhomes built in the core of town in the past couple of years – even though that new development does impact emergency-response demands. Those tax shortfalls compound over the years, and they also do not generate additional tax revenue for the fire department that would be expected from increased property values over the years.

Interestingly, Summit Fire & EMS is an amalgamation of numerous smaller fire departments that have been absorbed through consolidation over the years. As recently as the 1990s, there were separate departments in Dillon, Dillon Valley, Frisco, Copper Mountain, Keystone, Montezuma and Silverthorne. Those separate organizations each built their own fire stations in conjunction with the municipalities they served. In those earlier days, each community had established its own fire district and built its own stations. Those departments all relied on volunteer firefighters who may or may not have been available at the time that an emergency response was needed. Through efficiencies gained by consolidation and a steady transition to a fully professional, 24-hour all-hazards emergency-response organization, Summit Fire and its predecessor organizations such as Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue and the Snake River Fire Department, have been able to compress into four permanent fire stations, located geographically to provide the quickest, most efficient response to the areas with the densest populations that generate the preponderance of emergency calls. Given the costs of staffing and operating a station, it didn’t make financial or operational sense to keep all of those stations open.

old Dillon Valley Fire Department station
The defunct Dillon Valley Fire Department station stood next to Dillon Valley Elementary School in the 1980s.

It should be noted that a popular misconception in recent years is that the old Silverthorne fire station at 401 Blue River Parkway served as a response station until Summit Fire vacated it in 2019. In fact, since 2003, there had been no firefighters stationed there, and emergency response in Silverthorne primarily has been covered by the SF&EMS station in Dillon all this time.

Currently, when we anticipate heavy traffic congestion due to bad weather, interstate closures, special events, road construction or other factors, SF&EMS can pre-position an ambulance or fire engine on the north side of Interstate 70. Additionally, we rely upon the assistance of the Colorado State Patrol, the Silverthorne and Dillon police and the Colorado Department of Transportation to assist with clearing a path for emergency apparatus through traffic. While there is no doubt that traffic congestion through the I-70/Blue River Parkway interchange is increasingly troublesome, our average call-response times to emergencies in Silverthorne remain well within industry standards. We know that in emergencies such as strokes or cardiac arrests, every minute counts, and we always are seeking ways to improve our responses times to all emergencies.

This is a complex question with a complex answer. For starters, the volume of emergency calls and our response times to Silverthorne and the lower Blue River valley have not justified the cost of operating a separate fire station in town. During our quest for international professional accreditation and our continuing efforts to maintain that designation, we have analyzed our coverage of our district in great detail and still find that our response capabilities from Dillon meet our demands. That said, we’ve had a new fire station in Silverthorne in our long-range plans for many years now, knowing that developments such as Maryland Creek Ranch (now Summit Sky Ranch) would expand town boundaries and population density northward. After the dramatic slowdown of development due to the COVID-19 pandemic, few could have predicted the unprecedented explosion of new construction that has taken place this summer and the resulting jumps in population and traffic. In passing measure 6A last year, SF&EMS anticipated building a fire station in Silverthorne in three to five years, once the emergency call volume justified it.

After considering several different designs seeking to establish a facility as quickly as possible but also one that can be expanded easily (without a lot of tearing down and rebuilding) and one that, when built out will serve our purposes for 25+ years -- all while working within budget constraints and using tax dollars wisely -- the SF&EMS Board of Directors at the Nov. 15, 2022 meeting has selected this design:

Silverthorne fire station preferred plan
Silverthorne fire station floor plan selected at Nov. 15, 2022, SF&EMS Board of Directors meeting

 

Summit County Measure 1B was a county measure, not one promoted by Summit Fire & EMS. And while wildfire emergency response is one of the aspects covered by continuing this property tax, those funds would be controlled entirely by the county (most likely the sheriff, who statutorily is the county fire marshal and who would be on the hook for paying for the county's portion of external firefighting efforts such as aircraft and supplemental ground crews). A significant aspect of the measure would bolster funding for the countywide emergency 9-1-1 dispatch center, which, of course, is a critical cog in wildfire response but also in all emergencies, including law-enforcement matters.

Nope. They're actually deemed a safety hazard, as too many firefighters rushing to emergencies would land poorly and sprain ankles or worse. Fire departments around the country have moved away from them, often, as is the case with the design of this new station, building single-story firehouses. (Summit Fire & EMS stations in Frisco and Dillon still have their original fire poles, but they are no longer in use.) 

Want some interesting history? The fire pole first was invented in the late 19th Century, back when firefighters sped to fires on horse-drawn wagons. Back at the fire station, the ground floor was set aside as stables for the horses, and the firefighters' living quarters were upstairs. Horses, being curious animals, were known to climb staircases, which upset more than one fire crew interrupted during their dinner by a snorting, pooping horse in their kitchen. So firefighters installed spiral staircases, with the radii and narrow widths serving as a perfect barrier for horses -- but posing a very, very tricky route back down, especially for firefighters in a hurry. The answer came in the form of fire poles, which allowed firefighters to get down to the horses and wagons quickly. It's all described right here, courtesy of the indisputable Smithsonian magazine: How an Ingenious Fireman Brought a Pole into the Fire House

firefighter and fire pole
Fire poles are a vestigial part of firefighting history.