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Black ice
Newly formed fire authority to rescue
black ice-basalt fire.jpeg
Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority group photo.

The third sheet of black ice does her. The extended bed swings right, then left. The ’86 pickup launches and flips, hurdling over two irrigation ditches and the bike path. It clears the telephone pole and a large boulder before coming to rest, belly up, on the Emma Road. 

No moon. Ink black. Gas vapors burn her nostrils, streaming out all over God-knows-where. Cinched to the bench seat, legs wrapped around a steering wheel, she’s upside down, testing what might be a broken arm.

truck flipped over
Cause of death for beloved vehicle: Black ice. - photo by Genevieve Villamizar
Miraculously, her phone landed within reach amid the chaos. She dials 911. In the 11 minutes it takes her to secure a knife and cut her seat belts, emergency lights arrive. She shouts permission and tempered glass explodes. Hands reach, pulling her from the crushed tin can of her cab and a firm body guides her to the warmth of the ambulance. A few questions as he cuts her sleeve open, eyes big when he sees her arm. As the needle plunges into it, a cool wave of calm fills her: Firefighter and EMT paramedic Karl Oliver to the rescue.

Long-time Basaltine Wally Dallenbach tells the story of another accident where the driver wasn’t so fortunate. It was winter, 1976. A truck skated the ice of County Road 104 right into the Frying Pan River — pretty much Dallenbach’s front yard. Back then, there were no emergency response resources in Basalt — no Basalt Rescue, no Jaws of Life. The driver was pinned in the truck, midriver, 25 degrees out, for quite some time before a state trooper could even arrive, let alone Carbondale and Aspen rescue teams. 

That was too much for Dallenbach, who felt compelled to act. He and two other investors secured a $20,000 loan to purchase a used ambulance. He found one for sale in Indiana, where he was racing the Indy 500. He drove that ambulance to Basalt the very night he finished the race. Meanwhile, he had also organized 20 volunteers to do EMT training. They drove that ambulance in the 1976 Basalt Fourth of July parade!

Ambulance procured by Wally Dellenbach in 1976 for $20,000.
Basalt has come a long way since then.

The result of a four-year process, the carefully orchestrated and long-anticipated consolidation of Basalt and Rural Fire Protection District with the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District will be complete in January. The two entities will operate as the Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority. 

What does this change mean for Basalt? Bigger, better, faster, leaner.

As Fire Chief Scott Thompson explains, “Two areas we were able to promote existing personnel that greatly benefits our organization — we added a Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services (EMS). This chief’s responsibilities include all aspects of our medical response and preparedness; approximately 75 percent of our calls are medical.

“We also promoted another employee as a Division Chief of Training,” Thompson continues. “Those responsibilities include certifications, monthly trainings, certified firefighter courses, hazmat courses etc., plus making sure all of our people stay current and get recertifications completed on time.” 

Consolidating two fire districts benefits Basalt financially.

“One chief and one chief salary bring two administrations under one roof,” Thompson says. “We did add from the outside a Director of Human Resources and Information Technology, which we could not have managed as single districts.”

Also, he adds, “With a larger pool of personnel, we are able to cut down on overtime by scheduling efficiently while making sure we have adequate personnel available in Snowmass Village and Basalt stations.”

When organizations ask for more funding in election years, the public often votes “no” — which challenges service providers to be more efficient with what they already have. The consolidation saves Basalt tax dollars not only on personnel and infrastructure but on operating costs.

 “We have already had several instances that, by bidding out, we’ve seen the benefits of better pricing as we placed bigger orders,” Thompson says.

Though the two agencies have long worked with each other, attention was paid to the merging of two organizations, two work cultures. As a “new” team with a comingled mission, Roaring Fork Fire and Rescue Authority now encompasses the 21-square miles of Snowmass-Wildcat in addition to Basalt’s 500-square-mile range in Pitkin and Eagle counties. 

Chief Thompson is about as proud as Dallenbach must have been in ’76. The numbers speak.

roaring fork fire rescue
Roaring Fork Fire Rescue Authority group photo.
“Currently, the Fire Authority has 96 career, volunteer, part-time and civilian employees,” he says. “Of these employees, 57 firefighters responded to the Lake Christine Fire. During the year prior to the fire, all our firefighters had trained and worked together, each became aware of each other’s strengths, which certainly was beneficial while working together and fighting the Lake Christine Fire. We were able to staff fire trucks with career and volunteer staff that worked seamlessly.”

“We have an incredible cadre of career [firefighters] and volunteers,” Dallenbach says. “This is what has made our authority successful. This group certainly proved this during the Lake Christine Fire. I am proud to lead our personnel as they have made this system work — as you personally witnessed during your accident.”

Yep. That was my truck and my rollover. I’m grateful for the quality of care and responsiveness amid a terrifying experience. Thank you, Roaring Fork Fire Rescue. Thank you EMT Karl Oliver and State Trooper Johnson. And thank you to the unknown men who stopped first and gave me the (very sharp!) knife I used to sever my seatbelts. I hope it made its way back to you.