Thanks to donations that poured in from around the country in the wake of Larimer County’s worst wildfire on record, the donation-dependent Rist Canyon Volunteer Fire Department can breathe a little easier.
About 250 people packed the Stove Prairie School cafeteria and gymnasium Nov. 3 for RCVFD’s annual meeting, where treasurer Richard Lund happily reported that the department had more than $682,000 in cash on hand. The department operates on a $50,000 to $60,000 annual budget and, in previous years, a typical cash balance would average about $100,000.
Donations from Rist-area residents and proceeds from the Richard Schmid Fine Art Auction and Rist Canyon Mountain Festival have been the department’s lifeline. Lund reported that, as of Nov. 3, the 2012 auction and festival had netted $94,258, the second-best year since the event started in 1996.
The mountain festival bake sale raised $2,170, space rental from vendors brought in $1,500, the car show netted $300, the silent auction of donated goods brought in $6,859, food vendors brought in $1,215, donations for ice cream $1,879, the plant sale brought in $167 and the tent staffed by volunteer firefighters sold out of 100 “RCVFD supporter” T-shirts in two hours and raised $8,858.
The art auction netted $72,699 which included an impromptu auction of a rhubarb pie made by Whale Rock resident Barb Monesson and purchased by Rist Canyon resident Jon Stephens for $1,000.
During the High Park Fire in June donations poured in from around the county. The department took donations by mail or online through PayPal. Lund said he sometimes processed 50 to 60 online payments per day. Online donations came from New York, California, Florida, Texas, Tennessee and Washington. Colorado and communities closer to Bellvue pitched in too.
“The Bellvue mailbox was stuffed full daily. I had to work three to six hours per day opening letters,” Lund said. “It kept me busy, and the outpouring that this community received was humbling.”
Since the fire, the department has paid some bills, paid lost wages to volunteer firefighters and paid rebuilding funds to RCVFD firefighters who lost homes. As of Nov. 3, the department had $364,250 in checking, $250,076 in savings, $16,904 in the PayPal account and a rainy-day fund with a $30,000 balance. Total of the accounts was $682,265.
“The fire was bad, but what people donated to us, we’re not living from year-to-year right now,” Lund said. “And now it’s up to us to wisely use the money.”
During the meeting, RCVFD Board of Directors President Mike Thompson presented chief Bob Gann with the President’s Award for Gann’s exemplary leadership during both the High Park Fire and the Crystal Fire in 2011.
Gann then talked about the opportunities and challenges the department now faces and said the department will develop a strategic plan on how to invest the donations.
“We’re not going to run out on a spending spree, but replacing Whale Rock Station 4, which burned in the fire, is a priority because that directly affects ISO ratings and homeowners’ insurance coverage and rates,” said Gann.
The department’s already spent $45,000 replacing tools and equipment for the fire trucks, and gear lost when firefighters’ homes burned. Each firefighter gets Nomex shirts and pants, boots and other equipment that adds up to $2,000 to $3,000 per firefighter.
Some money will also be spent to equip an extra truck dedicated to the rebuilt Whale Rock Station 4 and replace tires on fire trucks that were damaged during High Park. Gann said the department will study expanding Station 1 by eight feet so that firefighters can move around and between the now tightly packed fire trucks, and possibly install a restroom.
Station 3 (closest to Stove Prairie) will get a donated self-contained breathing apparatus refiller installed and the department might move forward with a new station in Buckhorn, something that’s been talked about for several years. A new three-bay station in Buckhorn would require $50,000 to $60,000 to build. Trucks and associated equipment would be purchased at about $100,000 each, according to Gann. He said he hoped to obtain grant money to cover some of the costs for the new station.
“Overall our equipment is in good shape, our firefighters are in good shape and we’ve got lots of experience to go with it,” said Gann.