Fire departments should merge, study says

Ultimate goal would be new fire authority

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The status quo is not an option, according to a $40,000 study commissioned jointly by Littleton and Englewood to recommend a future for both fire departments. Littleton Fire Rescue serves Highlands Ranch.

“Hesitancy or failure to move forward in the face of today’s imposing challenges to local government consigns communities to service erosion and disappointment,” reads the report, presented by James Broman of the consulting firm Emergency Services Consulting International during a joint study session Dec. 10.

The fastest solution, says Broman, is to create an intergovernmental agreement, which is how the Littleton/Englewood Wastewater Treatment Plant is managed. But the long-term goal, he says, should be to create a new fire authority.

Under an IGA, each agency would retain taxing authority and a high degree of local control, but would save a combined $78,000 right away by streamlining services like administrative and support functions.

Englewood Council Member Rick Gillit wondered about uprooting both departments for $39,500 each, but Broman pointed out more would be saved by creating an authority. Ideally, it would include Englewood, Littleton, Littleton Fire Protection District, Highlands Ranch Metro District and possibly Sheridan, which now contracts with Denver.

At that point, voters would likely be asked to accept a new property tax to pay for service. Currently, Littleton and Englewood’s departments are funded through sales tax, while Highlands Ranch residents pay a mill levy specifically for fire service, contracted through LFR.

“There are a lot of questions to be answered,” said Littleton Fire Chief John Mullin, while addressing the HRMD board of directors on Dec. 12. “The City of Littleton has a contract with you, and I can’t imagine we would enter into an intergovernmental agreement with Englewood or anybody else without your input.

“There is no way Englewood or Littleton can commit you to spending any more or any less money, it just can’t happen. It’s in the contract that we already have. I know that (the IGA) certainly has made some people nervous, but I see it as an opportunity. I think there are some good opportunities for linking up with Englewood to make our service more effective and more efficient.”

The suggested fire authority would operate similar to a special district like South Suburban Parks and Recreation, but representatives from each entity would sit on the governing board. Possibilities for combining efforts include dispatch, equipment purchases, training and fire-prevention efforts.

With the retirements of Mullin and Fire Chief Mike Pattarozzi of Englewood in the not-so-distant future, an authority would have just one chief. A fire marshal and training chief would be eliminated, leaving one each. ESCI recommends no reduction in operations personnel.

ESCI conducted interviews with stakeholders from city councils to firefighters. Many commented on the pride residents have in their departments and worried that combining cultures would be a challenge. But several felt joint operations would result in better planning, leadership and financial stability.

The HRMD board of directors did not openly discuss the possible IGA following Mullin’s presentation, but instead went into executive session to address the issue. 

Staff Reporter Ryan Boldrey contributed to this report