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Fact check: How many El Paso County Wildland Firefighters actually resigned?

Sheriff's Office disputes Twitter post indicating 18 volunteers suddenly quit
Twitter Post
Posted at 5:11 PM, Feb 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 19:31:11-05

EL PASO COUNTY — Friday afternoon, a post on the El Paso County Wildland Fire Team's Twitter page indicated that 18 volunteer firefighters abruptly resigned.

Twitter Post
El Paso County Wildland Fire Twitter Post

Shortly after this tweet went public, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office issued a statement, disputing information that was posted on that Twitter page.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office is a large, multi-faceted organization that is mandated by Colorado state statute to provide a number of critical public safety and life-saving services to the citizens of El Paso County and the surrounding region. One of those mandates is to provide wildland fire management. The Sheriff’s Office Wildland Fire Team falls under the Emergency Services Section of the Sheriff’s Office which is staffed by a combination of paid staff and volunteer members comprised of citizens of El Paso County and the surrounding areas. These amazing people come from all walks of life and are dedicated to the preservation of lives and properties.

Today, an unknown person posted to the El Paso County Wildland Fire Twitter account (@epcwildland) a message that 18 volunteer firefighters resigned en masse. Subsequent information posted to that same Tweet by an unknown Wildland Fire Twitter account user indicated the resignations were due to a hostile environment. It further referenced a letter detailing grievances that had been delivered to the Sheriff. We are looking into the source of these Tweets. While there have been some resignations by members of the EPC Wildland Fire Team, the information posted was not accurate.

Until further notice, any information relevant to the EPC Wildland Fire Team will be disseminated by the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Office through media release, our Facebook account (EPC Sheriff’s Office), our Instagram account (@epcsheriff), our NextDoor account (El Paso County Sheriff’s Office), and/or our Twitter account (@EPCSheriff). Any information put out until further notice from the EPC Wildland Fire Twitter handle (@epcwildland) is not official communication from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office Wildland Fire Team remains committed, equipped, staffed, and ready to respond 24 hours a day, 7 days week, 365 days a year, to suppress wildland fires in our region and save lives and property. There has been no interruption to this capability or to the services available to El Paso County.

According to information News 5 obtained from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Monday, a total of 8 resignations were submitted in the last 30 days. Putting that number into perspective, 30-percent of the entire force resigned.

A spokesperson for the sheriff's office says the Wildland Team currently has 15 volunteers and 4 paid employees.

As we learn new information regarding these resignations, we'll be sure to pass them along to you.

Update (2/17/2022)

The Sheriff's Office released the following additional details Thursday afternoon:

All El Paso County Sheriff’s Office volunteers take their commitment to the community seriously. All employees and volunteers work under the authority of the Sheriff. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has an obligation to the community to hold all members, including volunteers, accountable to all applicable policies and state statutes. Colorado law mandates that the El Paso County Sheriff‘s office provide wildland fire management. The Sheriff’s Office fulfills this obligation through a combination of paid staff and volunteer members who comprise the El Paso County Wildland Fire Team. These amazing people come from all walks of life and are dedicated to the preservation of lives and properties. Currently, we have four paid employees and 15 volunteers. As with all Sheriff’s Office personnel, complaints of harassment and discrimination from the Wildland Team are investigated by the County Attorney’s office, under attorney guidance, with that investigation being shielded by the attorney/client privilege. Accordingly, any such investigative records compiled by the County Attorney’s Office must be denied as they are subject to confidential attorney/client and/or work-product privilege. See C.R.S. § 24-72-204(3)(a)(IV), C.R.S. § 24-72-204(1)(a), and C.R.S. § 13-90-107(1)(b). See also District Black v. Sw. Water Conservation Dist., 74 P.3d 462 (Colo. App. 2003). While the Sheriff’s Office is unable to comment on the specifics of any personnel investigation, we can assure you that the Sheriff’s Office takes all complaints of harassment and discrimination very seriously and will not tolerate it within any of its Departments. Recently, the Sheriff’s Office instituted a number of changes within the Wildland Fire Team in conjunction with a broader assessment of the Team’s operations. These measures were taken in furtherance of the Sheriff’s Office commitment to ensure the safety of El Paso County citizens and to ensure the efficient operations of the Team. Subsequent to these recent changes, some Team volunteers submitted resignations for a variety of reasons. Because volunteer firefighters are considered employees under certain Colorado statutes, such as C.R.S. § 8-40-202(a)(I)(A), these letters will not be released according to C.R.S. § 24-72-204(3)(a)(II) because they are maintained as part of the employer/employee relationship in their personnel files, and because the volunteers have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their letters.

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