Barbara Lawlor – Nederland
Coming into Nederland to enjoy a celebratory dinner at Kathmandu and to honor firefighters, Nederland Fire Protection District administrators were faced with darkness. It was about two weeks before Christmas and all through the town, not a light was lit, not even a house. Yep, the power was off‚ again.
It was a windy night and cold and once again the NFPD firefighters were called into action. They brought in their generator-powered lights and Assistant Chief Ryan Roberts even brought in the Coleman lanterns he used at his wedding. He put one in the kitchen so the cooks could create their luscious concoctions; a light was put up at the bar, and one was put up on the stage to illuminate cCief Rick Dirr as he began the party, the annual toasting, roasting and celebrating of individuals and most of all, the team.
Chief Dirr informed the guests that he was breaking tradition, that there would be no individual awards such as Rookie of the Year, Officer of the Year, etc; that service and teamwork would be awarded. But not until everyone had their fill of appetizers and cocktails and conversation.
Dirr began with welcoming Ned firefighters, friends and families and said the night epitomized who and what the department was: the ability to come up with a generator, a light, and make the party work while other businesses closed their doors. “We are fixers,” he said. “We fix things and we fix people.”
That statement led him to express his heavy heart about the death of former NFPD captain, John Siefert, saying that 18 years ago, in 1995, Siefert had been a member of the fire department board.
“John came to us because his daughter was dependent on oxygen and he needed information. We talked him joining the department when he was wondering if he should be a firefighter or a cop.” Siefert ended up attending Red Rocks Police Academy and signed on with the Nederland Police Department and then later with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office.
Dirr said of Siefert, who took his life on Thursday, “He was fabulous. He was excellent. He did everything you firefighters do and he served us well.”
Dirr remembered that when he met Siefert, the man wore a ponytail and was anti-authority. To become an officer, a trainee had to be physically fit, so John took to walking the track while chain-smoking cigarettes.
“John was at the right place at the right time to apprehend the perp that had killed Brian Mahon at Eldora. He took the physical step and risked his life to keep us safe. He was a reluctant hero. Being a hero was not what he wanted but he had the gift of service to others.”
Dirr told the firefighters, the emergency responders, that they all serve the way Siefert did. He said being a firefighter is not like being a volunteer at the library. “We see the horrific. I am proud of this organization and the people who have come and gone. It is psychologically important to grieve and talk about John. Bargaining and blaming doesn’t work. John was taken from us five years ago at the shooting. We could not have loved him more.”
A few of the guests talked of Siefert. Ed Leblanc said, “John always had my back. He is going to be missed.”
And then the power came on, the lights came on and the generators and lanterns were whisked away to their emergency homes.
Dirr, as the narrator, took his team through the years in his slide show presentation. He told the medical people that when they got the call to make a difference in someone’s life, that person won’t remember the meds—he or she will remember that a medic made eye contact and treated the patient like a human being. In the past year, emergency workers touched over 400 lives.
Dirr said that a Ned triathlon is when a person wrecks his car, gets out and then runs away. Humor was needed at that moment, so he showed a picture of a bright red tanker with its front end in the woods, its middle over a ditch and its rear tires helpless as water spilled onto the road. He had been trying to show someone how hard it is to negotiate Ridge Road with a tanker.
He showed pictures of accidents, twisted metal, frightened people, firefighters treating patients on the side of the road. He talked of the fatalities, the pickup rollover, the stabbing at the end of Ridge Road, the stabbing at Gordon Gulch, the motorcycle accident fatality, the helicopter rescue of a woman who was bleeding internally but was saved by the medic’s quick action and good decisions. The heroic rescue of a pug, who needed to be carried out from the wilderness—seven miles of it. They gave mutual aid, sending firefighters and equipment to the most devastating wildfire in Colorado history, and to neighboring departments when they fought structure fires.
There were pictures of the flood and the emergency work that our firefighters performed to make sure people got out safely and that they had what they needed. Dirr said that when he saw the damage that the water did in the canyon, he realized that “we’re not as important as we think we are.”
A rubber boat acquired by the department was named SS Dirr and took a voyage on Peterson Lake. A couple of firefighters rescued a mountain lion that had been hit by a car and was hiding in a ditch. People were bringing it meat. When they got the cat out, it ran off.
After the slide show, Dirr presented some of the awards that are dubious in their intent. The Nice Try Award went to Alex Flores, who, it was said, had 12 flat tires in the past year. He also put in 100 hours of service.
When the Rocky Mountain Rescue team was inaccessible because of the rescue work during the flood, the Ned firefighters engaged in evacuation training to be ready if needed.
The Bucket Brigade was honored for their dedicated support for the department. Members Christa Cronin, Laurie Roberts, Terry Cronin, Bill Baumgarten, Tom Hartleb, Steve Sayah, Nancy, and Kim Culver were presented plaques. They in turn presented ornaments to those who have been with the department for years, and years, and some of them, decades. Rick Dirr is a 23 year member; Mike Smith, 12; Charlie Schmidtmass, 14; Eric Abramson, 16; Bill Baumgarten, 14; Jim Harrison, 11; Laurelyn Sayah, 11; Molly Welsh, 7; and David Femmer, 5.
Firefighters with the largest percentage of training sessions are Dave Femmer, 43%; Bill Baumgarten, 50%; and Ian Irwin-Powell.
Bill Baumgarten and Jim Harrison responded to 1000 calls; Eric Abramson responded to 1500 calls.
Baumgarten, Matt, Abramson, Sayah, Harrison and Irwin-Powell received the Lifesaving Award for treating and evacuating a woman with internal bleeding from the western side of the Continental Divide. Matt was acknowledged for getting to the scene first and making some significant decisions that saved the woman’s life.
An NFPD award ceremony would not be complete without presenting the prize that no-one really wants. Charlie Schmidtmann, Dirr explained, seems to attract undesirable calls, the ones that are messy or unpleasant, but he completes the task without complaining. The new award is a helmet with a pile of poop proudly displayed on the front. Not real, but not pretty.
Another new prize comes from a grant which allows the department to pay firefighters $2 a call, which doesn’t seem like much. But when, as in the case of Iain Irwin-Powell, one goes on 214 calls in a year, that prize could go a long way. Meager, said Dirr, but it would pay for some gas.
At the end of the evening, after the chocolate cake, Dirr presented the one singular award on the agenda: the Chief’s Award, which went to Ryan Roberts, an unsung hero, for his commitment to the department.
Another year of saving lives and rescuing hikers, fighting fires and training to be prepared for whatever emergency they are called out on in the upcoming year, 2014.