Posted by Jim Garrett
Randy told us that his career in fire fighting began in Amarillo, Texas in 1981.   He retired from the fire department there after 25 years, and subsequently joined the Pine River Fire Protection District based in neighboring Bayfield, coming to the Pagosa District a few years later.  He was appointed chief in 2016.
The Pagosa Fire Protection District (PFPD) was established as a Special District under Colorado law in 1979, Randy said, and later merged with the former fire department of the Town of Pagosa Springs in the 1990’s.  The District currently has four paid officers, two chiefs, a Fire Marshal, and two staff persons.
Much of its fire fighting is done by a large force of volunteers, currently 41.  Paid staff are on duty during the normal business week, so response to calls in off hours depends on volunteers and staff responding from their homes and their personal activities.   There are seven stations in the PFPD.
The PFPD is formally responsible for coverage of an area of 37 square miles, but in reality responds to calls in an area of 1000 square miles, including places where there is no other convenient coverage like the southern part of Mineral County, and Wolf Creek Pass -- the site of many vehicle accidents, particularly involving heavy trucks.
Randy added that the PFPD deals with more than only calls to fires.  It also staffs a rescue team, a Hasmat team, responds to accidents and wildland fires, and has trainied paramedics who provide supplemental emergency medical service (EMS) response in the community. 
The District’s primary source of funding is a mill levy on real estate, which generates about $1 million revenue/yr.  It also has won some grant funds, which it actively seeks.  Its current budget is about $1.1 million.
Though the majority of firefighters are volunteers, Randy said there are substantial costs to train and equip them (e.g., $800 for personal safety equipment, $1500 for a breathing apparatus).  And the firefighters do receive a small annual stipend based on achievement of performance goals.  Randy said the District finds that it loses many of its good firefighters once they are fully trained, because even when they are committed Pagosans, they leave to accept paid positions elsewhere.
The current mill levy is 4.067.  The district is seeking voter approval for an increase to 7.85.  Randy said that would result in a tax liability of about $56.52 per $100,000 of property value.  The last previous change in the mill levy, he said, was in 1998.  Since then, community population has doubled and costs have skyrocketed: for example, he cited the cost of equipment – i.e., a truck that might have cost about $150,000 then, would now cost about $400,000, Randy said.
The increased revenue, Chief Larson said, would help establish a capital reserve fund, that could ease the financial strain of acquiring replacement equipment.  But even more important, he explained it would allow full time staffing of fire station no. 1, by funding employment of 10 full-time fire fighters.  This would improve time to respond to calls throughout the district, since the personnel on duty around the clock would be able to participate immediately in responses universally throughout the district.  This is important, he noted, because “interior attack on a fire” inside a structure is not permitted to be undertaken unless at least four certified personnel are present.  So the quicker the response, the more effective the effort.