Human safety takes priority over property

This year has been extremely hard for many of our friends and neighbors in Montezuma County. The county has enacted two emergency declarations, once for the Weber Fire near Mancos and again for the Roatcap Fire near Dolores. The impacts on those citizens who were affected were extremely stressful and trying. These impacts are always a concern to those law enforcement agencies, fire departments and all other agencies who respond. Overall, the cooperation and support from our citizens to emergency responders has been nothing short of amazing and is greatly appreciated by everyone involved.

During the Roatcap Fire, there was one unfortunate incident that has been highly publicized in the county. As the deputy emergency manager for Montezuma County, I want to take this opportunity to explain the objectives of the initial attack or response phase so that our citizens are better prepared to respond to future emergencies.

The emergency responders have two primary goals or objectives during the initial response or initial attack phase of any incident or emergency. First and foremost is life safety. This includes both public safety and the safety of those personnel who respond. The initial response phase can range from minutes to hours, even days, depending on the complexity of the incident.

During the Roatcap Fire, with the fire spreading rapidly, the law enforcement element was tasked to do several things with only limited number of deputies on duty. They were tasked to conduct two roadblocks, go house to house to conduct mandatory evacuations, and control traffic for firefighter personnel and other emergency responders. Unless human life safety was concerned, no one was allowed to enter the area.

The second goal for the emergency responders is (in laymen’s terms) to get their arms wrapped around the incident or to start to control the chaos. Initially, the responders are trying to gather intelligence about the situation (how severe, is everyone accounted for, resources needed, damage assessment, etc.). The initial attack — no matter how experienced, well trained, and well equipped responders are — will never be completely fluent until numerous questions are answered and appropriate resources arrive on scene.

In both the Weber Fire and Roatcap Fire, Sheriff Dennis Spruell understood the concerns of people affected by the fire. After the initial response phase and after consulting with other responding agency authorities to ensure it was safe to do so, Sheriff Spruell authorized deputies and other law enforcement personnel to escort people into evacuated areas to check on their homes, gather items such as clothing, medications, pets or animals, etc. This was both the right time and right way to address the needs of our public without jeopardizing the safety of our citizens and response personnel during these emergencies.

In any future emergencies, I would like to ask all citizens to be patient and to follow all requests given by law enforcement/response personnel. As soon as resources and the situation allow, individual needs will be addressed.

I would like to thank all of our citizens for their great support and cooperation during these emergencies.

Paul Hollar is deputy emergency manager for Montezuma County.

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