‘Wildlands’ specialty of historic Fire Station 5
It was the first fire station that Colorado Springs created after annexing Colorado City in 1917. Fire Station 5 spent its first three years in the former Colorado City
jail building at 115 S. 26th St. (which would be destroyed by fire in 1990) before relocating to a 7,200-square-foot, former clubhouse for gold-mill workers at 2830
W. Colorado Ave. in January 1921.
Today, Fire Station 5 operates out of that same two-story brick building, specializing in the types of fire and rescue work people might expect, based on its location near open space, populated hillsides and rock-climbing areas.
Station 5 is equipped with two vehicles. The brush truck (Brush 5) is specifically geared for fighting what are known as wildland urban interface (WUI) fires. The truck has a 300-gallon tank from which the vehicle can pump about 25 minutes of constant water, if needed, according to Dale Lewis, the station's driver/engineer, who has been with the station the longest (15 years).
The station's other apparatus (Engine 5) was one of the department's first four-wheel drive vehicles, said Capt. Steve Watz, a 22-year Fire Department veteran who has been the head of 5 for the past year and a half. Its shorter wheelbase makes it easier to traverse curving or narrow hillside roads. A 1992 vintage, it is due for replacement this year.
The WUI constitutes “one of the most dangerous areas anywhere in the city,” he pointed out. “Structures are tucked up into the brush, and there is a lot of activity.”
Some of that activity involves climbers or hikers getting into precarious situations. Station 5 is trained and equipped for rescuing such people, under what the Fire Department calls “high angle” rescues. They average about 35 a year. “We're the ones that go get you,” firefighter Josh Webb summed up.
Like some of Station 5's other firefighters, Webb also climbs on his days off. But that doesn't mean he or his colleagues try to do any fancy climbing when someone is stuck on a rock. With the equipment they have to carry (medical bag, litter, etc.) and a life at stake, they prefer the simplest approach. “We try to go above and rappel down,” he said.
Two Westside grass fires that Station 5 helped battle in the '90s led to the start of the FireWise program (which is run through the Fire Department's Wildland Risk Management Office). Both blazes were in the area of the 24-acre Mesa Preserve open space north of King Street. FireWise was developed to educate homeowners in the WUI about their wildfire danger and what they can do about it.
The station's overall coverage area is roughly 19th/21st Street to Lower Gold Camp Road to Manitou Springs and Pike National Forest to areas north of Fillmore Street. The area includes Kissing Camels, Gold Hill Mesa, Old Colorado City and Pleasant Valley. It is one of six stations that have WUI responsibilities (others are 16, 13, 12, 18 and 9).
The station is manned full-time, with four (sometimes five) on each shift. A total of 15 firefighters are assigned to it, including a paramedic at all times
The Station 5 building was originally constructed in 1904 by the owners of the Standard Mill, located at the time west of Fairview Cemetery. According to a Cobweb Corners column by Mel McFarland in a 2004 Westside Pioneer, “the Standard Mill managers thought it would be a great idea to have a place where their employees could meet away from work. There were many places along Colorado Avenue where they could find entertainment, but this would be a lot more respectable. In addition there would also be times when they could bring their families. The members contributed 50 cents each month from their salary.”
But the Standard Mill eventually closed, and with it the clubhouse building - at least until the Fire Department came along. Interestingly, firefighters did not take full possession of the structure until 1985, according to station history. Up to that time, the city had shared it with community organizations - the fire station having a separate entrance and portions of the upstairs and downstairs. The firefighters' current bedroom, in the rear area of the second floor, is where the big community room used to be.
The bedroom renovation was just one of many over the years. Others include a second truck bay, an upstairs bathroom for female firefighters, a large weight room (also available to personnel from other stations), a new downstairs bathroom, removal of two of the three fire poles and a new system - to be installed this year - that will control truck exhaust fumes.
With fewer fires in modern times and sophisticated breathing masks to wear when they do occur, Watz pointed out that those fumes “are our biggest concern for health.”
“We live in a garage,” Webb noted.
Not that the Fire Station 5 crew is complaining about their venerable home - even if they might wish for air conditioning to go with the exhaust control. Commented Watz, who has served at 5 a total of five years, including two previous rotations: “We love this old building.”
Westside Pioneer article