Dec 13, 2013 1:28 AM by Maddie Garrett
The Black Forest Fire/Rescue District is going back on its fire code policy, following complaints from residents and a new directive from the El Paso County Commissioners. It all stemmed from a fee people were told they had to pay if they didn't want to meet new requirements in the fire code when rebuilding.
The Fire District incorporated a new code that in some cases required people to install expensive sprinkler systems, water storage cisterns, or they could pay the Fire Board a fee of $5,600 as an alternative to meeting those requirements. The money would go into what's called a Rural Water Fund (RWF), that would then be used for items such as maintaining a tender fleet, rebuilding cisterns or increasing the hose inventory.
But as of Thursday night, the Fire District said it plans to give the money it has collected in the Rural Water Fund back. That's because El Paso County just rejected changes to the fire code, stating that Fire Districts cannot collect extra fees as an alternative to meeting other requirements.
At Tuesday night's Fire District Board meeting, Chairman Edward Bracken told upset residents that he would "take that under consideration" when asked if they would reimburse people who already paid the $5,600 to the Fire District. After several phone calls and emails from News 5 on Thursday afternoon, it appeared they did consider it. Kathy Russell, spokesperson for the Black Forest Fire/Rescue District, said Fire Chief Bob Harvey told her all payments would be reimbursed.
"I think the whole thing is poorly handled," said fire victim Graham Davis.
Davis is currently in the process of rebuilding his home. He, along with many others, wasn't happy when he found out about the fee to avoid installing sprinklers or a cistern.
"It's a crock, it sounds more like a bribe, that's what most people referred to it as," said Davis.
Richard Hoffman shared those same sentiments when he found out, "I was furious."
Hoffman is also rebuilding his home after it burned in the fire. He had concerns about the cost of rebuilding, and said at one point he almost considered not staying in Black Forest.
"Part of it was that $5,600," he explained. "I mean the house burned down, you're being kicked when you're on the ground, that's the way I felt."
El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn said he and the other commissioners weren't on board with the Fire District's policy either.
"When we heard about that we received a lot of feedback on it, it almost sounds like a tax that wasn't even voter approved," said Glenn.
The Black Forest Fire Board adopted the Rural Water Fund in September. Records show the board based its policy on a similar arrangement in the Falcon/Peyton Fire District, which currently has a Rural Water Fund. Black Forest intended for the RWF to be an alternative method to ensure meeting fire flow requirements when building a new home.
But Glenn said the policy doesn't make sense, and the county commissioners don't condone it.
"If you're really concerned about health and safety and firefighting, those types of abilities, how is writing a check going to solve that problem in the short term?" said Glenn of the RWF system.
Glenn added that not only is the fund against the County's new fire code, it doesn't help the rebuilding process either.
"When you're looking at people that have lost everything... And imposing a new requirement on them, I don't think that's in the best of the community," he said.
As of Thursday night, the Black Forest Fire/Rescue District did not tell News 5 how many people had already paid the $5,600 into the RWF, or when the Fire District plans to give the money back and how. News 5 will continue to track this story.