|The Wet Mountain Fire Protection District Board Election this coming Tuesday is a story of ten men competing for three unpaid volunteer positions on the board. The ten candidates are broken into two distinct camps, five serving volunteer firefighters and five citizens. In this five vs five election the stakes are high as three seats are a majority on the five member board, which could swing in a single election.
There has not been an election for the Wet Mountain Fire Protection District in more than ten years, with elections having been cancelled due to no challengers for the seats available.
According to current Captain and incumbent Roger Camper, “There has never been a need for elections; all of the current board members are firefighters. When a board member wanted to step down the board would find someone else to serve.”
Like many volunteer board positions there has never been much outside interest to serve on the board either. Any citizen living within the fire protection district can seek election. If there are enough candidates then a special district election takes place. What few realize is that every registered voter and property owner that lives or has property in the district can vote in the election; this covers most of the population in Custer County with the exclusion of the Wetmore and San Isabel areas. “Because we have not had an election in such a long time we are getting the word out to citizens to vote,” Camper noted. Unlike some states such as Texas or California it is not illegal for firefighters to serve on the board of directors. In fact, special districts such as the Wet Mountain Fire District, are set up to allow volunteers to serve on the boards, recognizing the limited populations in rural counties.
The reasons why so many candidates are running this year, especially the five non-firefighters, is not exactly clear. The Tribune interviewed each candidate except for Jim Shapland who could not be reached before the paper went to print.
Volunteer Firefighters Running for Election
Roger Camper (Incumbent)
John Decker (Incumbent)
Jeffery Thomas (Incumbent)
Citizens Running for Election
An interesting dynamic is that both groups agree that the fire board of directors has done a good job over the years. The financial stability of the district is solid. The original mill levy of 3.2 mills has not been raised since its inception in 1981. The district manages 38 volunteer firefighters with a main fire house in the town of Westcliffe plus substations in Rosita, Hillside, and Boneyard Park. In essence, this is not an election full of outcry for change in the department.
Eric Foster is one of the five citizens seeking to serve on the board. Foster has 30 years of service with the Los Angeles Fire Department and retired to his home in Silver Cliff a few years ago. “I have a lot of experience that could add to the fire district here,” Foster said. It seems that the citizen candidates have relevant experience that could bring an outside perspective to the board and each has a desire to serve their community.
As Michael Kienbusch said “I found out that you have to live in the district for a year before you can volunteer to be a firefighter, but you only need to live here 90 days to serve on the board, and I want to serve this community. I offer my hazardous materials experience to the board.”
Volunteer firefighter candidate Jerry Livengood noted that “I would welcome an outside perspective especially if they have relevant experience,” Livengood continued, “But having three new members on the board that have never even attended a board meeting might be problematic for the district.” There was agreement among all of the firefighters that understanding the district and serving on the board was an essential aspect of the fire district. Incumbent candidate Jeffery Thomas noted in a phone conversation that “the decisions that the board makes affects the firefighters on the ground directly. If a board member is also volunteer firefighter, then you have every incentive to make sure that the department has the best equipment and training possible, you are putting your life on the line.”
Voters ultimately will decide who is elected onto the board and any mix of three candidates can be selected by the voters on Tuesday, May 3. Please see a separate Tribune article for the rules on the election.
- Jordan Hedberg