The Cortez Fire Protection District is starting 2017 with more full-time firefighters than ever.
Chief Jeff Vandevoorde promoted four part-time firefighters to full-time positions on Christmas Day. One replaced a firefighter who left in December, but three will be taking new positions created in the district’s 2017 budget. Four years after the district hired its first full-time firefighters, the majority of staff covering each shift will now be full-time.
“It’s pretty exciting, really,” Assistant Fire Chief Shawn Bittle said. “Cortez is definitely a fire district that is progressing and moving forward.”
Cortez used to be an all-volunteer fire district, but the board of directors started hiring part-time firefighters in 2009. In 2012, the district got a federal grant for staffing, which allowed them to hire their first six full-time firefighters. Since then, three additional staff have been hired, and each shift has had three full-time and two part-time firefighters. But since the district needs at least four firefighters per shift, the district was paying overtime wages whenever someone took a sick day. Vandevoorde and Bittle hope the new full-time positions will eliminate that problem.
“By adding that fourth person per shift, we are able to ... create a little more company cohesion, where the guys are used to working with each other,” Bittle said.
The new full-time hires are Tyrel Matthews, Chad Ertz, Tyler Dykes and Gage Krob. All worked part-time for the fire district, but had to apply for each position and pass an oral interview, and written and physical-agility tests.
The Cortez Fire Protection District covers about 160 square miles in southwest Colorado, including Cortez, Dolores and Mancos, as well as rural areas stretching to the Utah state line. Most of its operating budget comes from property taxes paid by residents in the district. For 2017, the budget for wages increased from about $915,860 to $1.04 million including benefits, to accommodate the new hires. Administrator Wendy Mimiaga said the district was able to afford the increase, even though there has been no significant increase in property taxes since 2013, by closely managing the district budget. She and Vandevoorde have planned a budget for the next 10 years, Mimiaga said.
“We should be OK for quite some time, and it’s just through budget oversight and budgeting that allows us to work with the money,” Mimiaga said.
At the end of the 2016 budget year, the district had more than $2 million in surplus revenue, but it expects to have less than $700,000 left over after 2017.