Firefighters fought huge 2016 battles

          Barbara Lawlor, Nederland.  It was one of the hottest mountain summers on record, a condition that puts fire emergency teams on alert. Nederland Fire Protection District firefighters responded to unattended campfire calls on a daily basis, as campers either ignored fire bans or were unaware of them.

In July, one of those campfires got away from three Alabama residents who had no clue how to put out a fire properly. The runaway flames blew up into an inferno on the ridge above Cold Springs Drive. By the time the fire was reported, the NFPD chief had to call for mutual aid from the county and ask for air support.

Within hours, assistance arrived from all over the state and the wildfire was stopped before it could jump the canyon or sweep downhill to Boulder. Slurry bombers and helicopters worked the fire, but before the heavy assault from the air stopped the flames, eight homes had been destroyed, including one owned by a Nederland firefighter.

This was the major event of the year, but just one of over 400 calls since the beginning of 2016. Add a bomb in the middle of the parking lot of Nederland’s busiest shopping area, a hash oil house explosion, back country rescues, cars in the reservoir, accidental deaths and fires ignited by carelessly stashed ashes. The firefighters also spent many hours hosting children who learned about fire safety and who got to hold a live hose and squirt water at things.

On Sunday, December 11, 2016, the NFPD gathered at Kathmandu for the annual awards dinner, led by Chief Rick Dirr. It was time to honor the Nederland men and women who gave of their time and talent, who trained for the fires and injuries, and who risked their lives for their community.

Dirr, looking official in a suit and tie, thanked the firefighters, their spouses, the board of directors, town employees, the Bucket Brigade and law enforcement officers. He then began the slide show consisting of hundreds of action photographs taken throughout the year. The show wasn’t all serious, however. Firefighters snoozing in a chair, exhausted, got a few laughs or smiles, firefighters fixing things with puzzled looks on their faces, schoolchildren holding up signs thanking the firefighters.

Chief Dirr said that one of the most demanding calls was the dive rescue search of a vehicle that was upside down in the reservoir. The driver, however, had climbed out of the car and, disoriented, walked to the opposite side of the reservoir where he succumbed to hypothermia.


Dirr was also proud of the fact that the department won second place in the Trunk or Treat event at the elementary school for its display of a skeleton in the back of an ambulance. The firefighters even rescued a hummingbird and fed it back to life.

“We did big things this year,” said Dirr.


The long awaited awards were presented as dessert was being served.

The Three Top Responders were: 1. TopGun Iain Irwin-Powell with 48 percent; 2. Wingman Eric Abramson with 44 percent; 3. 2nd Wingman David Femmer with 30 percent.

The Outstanding Customer Care Award went to Eric Abramson who personally drove a patient to the emergency room after they refused ambulance transport.  He was also awarded for making his 2,000th call this year.

The Most Training Attended Awards went to Iain Irwin-Powell and David Femmer who tied at 53 percent and Ken Kehoe who attended 45 percent.

An IV Certification Award and a Fitness Award went to Iain Irwin-Powell for which he received a miniature barbell, a bottle of wine and a mop.

The Group Life-saving Award for two calls went to George Newell, Patrick Richardson, Jim Harrison, Tyler Smith, Iain Irwin-Powell, Eric Abramson, Ken Kehoe, Alex Olivas, Andrew Joslin, and Rick Dirr. Another Life-saving Award went to the team of Dirr, Keogh, Abramson, for their effort in trying to save a choking victim.

An individual Life-Saving Award went to Tyler Smith who pulled a patient who had fallen into Boulder Creek from the water and resuscitated her.


The Best Daytime Shift Responder was George Newell and the Best Nighttime Shift Responder was Kent Coghill.

Chief Dirr welcomed former members Tyler Smith and Chuck Chadakoff back into the NFPD family.


He congratulated former Candidates who became regular members: George Newell, Kent  Coghill and Andrew Josling for completing Rookie Books and he welcomed new applicants Bob Swanson, James Hegland and Anthony Desalvo.

Each volunteer firefighter received $2 for every call they went on, part of the Volunteer Incentive Program.

The 4 by 4 Award is a dubious honor, given annually to a person who tried to do the right thing, but didn’t quite make it. It began when a rookie firefighter was asked to bring a 4 by 4 to aid a person who had been shot in the head. The rookie promptly and earnestly returned with a 4 by 4 piece of lumber instead of the bandage that had been asked for.

This year’s award went to Abramson and Irwin-Powell for something involving tires. No one was giving out the details.

The dinner ended with the NFPD family going home, knowing that they were probably going to see each other soon; but not in such favorable circumstances.

Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.