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Saving lives together: Firefighters build partnerships

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Peterson Air Force Base Fire Department Engine 21, right, and the Cimarron Hills Fire Department ladder truck work together during a home fire off Constitution Avenue in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 4.  The two departments frequently work and train together in a partnership beneficial to both. (Courtesy photo)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Peterson Air Force Base Fire Department Engine 21, right, and the Cimarron Hills Fire Department ladder truck work together during a home fire off Constitution Avenue in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 4. The two departments frequently work and train together in a partnership beneficial to both. (Courtesy photo)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- When tragedy strikes – billowing smoke, towering flames, a critically wounded victim – it can be too late to develop a backup plan. Having one before the need strikes is a sound approach to dealing with disasters.

The Peterson Air Force Base and Cimarron Hills fire departments have a mutual aid agreement that has benefitted both groups for many years. The two departments respond to emergencies, back each other up and train together.

“Any time there is a report of smoke or fire, they come,” said Steve Conner, CHFD chief. “Any time we get a fire they come.”

Structure fires are the most common type of interaction the departments have, Conner said. When there is a fire-related emergency, a call to the dispatcher requesting Peterson FD support is nearly automatic. To make things smoother, and as evidence of the close working relationship they have, Peterson firefighters have specific radios that operate on the same frequency as CHFD and activate them when a call out for their help is made. Radios belonging to federal agencies, like the Peterson FD, operate on a unique frequency.

Location is one of the biggest benefits of the partnership. The two stations are located in close proximity to each other.

“They are close and have a quick response,” said Conner. “They can send five guys and a truck and with our guys, we can have 11 guys at a structure fire within a few minutes. It helps a lot.”

There are times when a serious situation can outstrip available manpower, and it is in those cases when such long term relationships really pay off, said Rod Coleman, PAFB Fire Department deputy chief.

“The benefit is knowing somebody has your back,” Coleman said. “It’s nice having your organic capability augmented with someone who can help.”

The boost to manpower is a boon to both organizations. Responding to emergency calls is where this is most notable, however there are other ways they support each other. One way is by “backfilling” each other’s stations when needed. In these cases, firefighters and a truck from one department can deploy to the other so personnel can attend training or events, such as a recent funeral for one of the CHFD crew.

Coleman said another example was when a Thunderbird F-16 aircraft crashed after performing at the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation in June.

“They provided us with great support,” said Coleman. “We needed all of our manpower to deal with the crash. They came in and covered any base emergencies or emergency medical service calls.”

Community related events find the departments supporting each other as well. During the 9/11 ceremony on PAFB this year, CHFD brought a ladder truck, equipment Peterson FD does not have, to support one of the flags at the event. Alternately, when CHFD had a community engagement event and chili cook-off, the Peterson FD brought out a truck and crew.

At the end of the day, it’s about fighting fires. Conner said the CHFD is one of the busiest in El Paso County when it comes to structural fires. Since Air Force bases are usually structured around good fire prevention methods, Coleman said Air Force firefighters don’t get a lot of opportunity to practice the things they train for, like structural fires.

The partnership provides experience for the Peterson firefighters and gives extra support to CHFD when responding to these events.

“The Air Force doesn’t get a lot of real, working building fires,” Coleman said. “A lot of our younger firefighters get a lot of firefighting experience fighting fires off base. For real firefighting experience, that’s one of the advantages our guys get responding off base.”

Conner said the departments look forward to working with each other and the Peterson crews are glad to gain the experience while helping put out fires.

“They are firemen and they get to fight fires,” Conner said. “We’ve got a really good system.”

Peterson SFB Schriever SFBCheyenne Mountain SFSThule AB New Boston SFS Kaena Point SFS Maui