USA — Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, said Colorado has a broken chain of command when it comes to fighting wildfires and he hopes to fix it during the 2014 General Assembly.
Lambert represents Senate District 9, which includes Black Forest – an area ravaged last summer by the state’s most destructive wildfire. The response to that fire has become the center of conflict between the El Paso County sheriff and the Black Forest fire chief.
“I’m not trying to pick a fight, but I believe the county has to have the ability to take control when they deem necessary,” Lambert said.
Lambert is drafting a bill he plans to introduce when the 2014 legislative session begins Wednesday.
The bill would empower county authorities to take over command during an emergency without permission or a request from the local jurisdiction.
In the case of the Black Forest fire, the Black Forest Fire Department first responded to the fire, and coordinated a multi-agency effort to stop the rapidly spreading flames.
Lambert said El Paso County wasn’t able to take command of the firefighting response because they weren’t asked. However, the assistant county fire marshall was involved from early on and ordered aerial firefighting resources, according to dispatch logs released on Monday by the sheriff’s office.
Sheriff Terry Maketa has said the Black Forest Fire Department mishandled the early response to the fire.
“It’s coming down on the side of the sheriff,” Lambert said of the legislation he intends to propose.
He said he learned of the gap in state law during the Black Forest Fire Recovery Legislative Subcommittee meetings.
“The state is trying to defend our role,” Lambert said, emphasizing county governments are much closer to state operations. “The quicker, the better when fighting fires and we need to solve this break in command and control.”
Lambert said he also will propose companion legislation that will address the state’s ability to take command of resources and operations when battling fires on federal land. He is exploring the possibility of using legislation to create concurrent jurisdiction on land owned by the federal government, including U.S. Forest Service jurisdiction.