LONGMONT, Colo. — Residents from the Sagamore neighborhood in Superior told Contact Denver7 they had no sirens, notifications or working fire hydrants as the Marshall Fire charged toward their homes on Dec. 30, 2021.
While no one is questioning the bravery of the first responders who ran toward the danger that day, as the smoke clears, survivors are questioning why they received no notification the fire was headed their way.
"If our citizens and our residents believe it failed, then yes, I believe that needs to be looked at," said Chief David Beebe, head of the Mountain View Fire Protection District, the first firefighters on scene. "We're here to protect people, we get paid tax dollars to do that. We should be accountable for that and our actions.
Yes, Beebe says, hurricane-force winds fueled an unprecedented firestorm. However, he says there is more to the story.
According to Beebe, his firefighters recognized the danger almost immediately and notified dispatch of the need for evacuations.
"All I can tell you is that it's my understanding that the evacuations were asked for," said Beebe. "Where it went from there, I can't speak to."
Beebe says he does not have a clear timeline of when or if evacuation notifications were sent to the Sagamore neighborhood. In the absence of evacuation notices, though, several neighbors asked why fire engines stayed silent instead of turning on sirens to sound the alarm.
"It's not something that we would normally do," the fire chief responded.
Beebe says sirens are typically only used for traffic control.
"Absolutely, we look at maybe we could have done this, maybe we could have done that," he continued. "In the heat of the battle, you fall back on your training, you fall back on what you've done before. My understanding is that everybody that was available from the fire department was fighting the fire."
Neighbors also reported seeing fire hydrants that did not work. Beebe says power to Superior's water pump went out and the backup generator burned in the fire.
"So now, plan A and plan B are gone," he said, pointing out that it is tough to speculate if homes could have been saved if water had been available."Based on the amount of fire, based on the winds, based on the fuel, it may have [mattered], but the consensus seems to be it probably wouldn't have mattered. I probably could have lined up 10 pumpers on that street and not saved that area."
What would have mattered, Beebe says, is better communication with other Boulder County agencies on different radio systems.
"They can talk to some people, they can't talk to all the people," said Beebe. "And that has been a problem as long as I've been in this business. If you look at the radio systems in this state, it's extremely fragmented, and in Boulder County, agencies that work under this dispatch center can talk to the agencies that work on this dispatch center. But if that agency worked for different dispatch center, there's no guarantee that that we're going to have interoperability or communications between those units."
Beebe says this is just the latest tragedy that has exposed this issue.
"Communications has been an issue in every one of them, and I have not seen change," he said. "So you asked me if I think it will, I really hope so, but I'm not going to bet my house on it.".
Beebe says there are many stakeholders now coming together to try to make this response different, discussing everything from building codes to mitigation along the wildland urban interface.
"I hope this event serves as a wake-up call to everybody," the fire chief said. "I think you as a news media have a role in holding our feet to it and holding us accountable for that. My fear is that this only lasts until the next emergency, and then the focus gets lost."