When did you first come to Glen Haven?
I moved to CO in 2000 from Ohio. I came out with my church to work at the YMCA and stayed on living up in Estes Park. A co-worker lived down in Glen Haven, which is how I got introduced to the community. I found a cabin up the hill from where Bob Clark and Matt O’Chainsaw now sell woodwork. It was $100/month. The cabin had electricity and a wood-burning stove. There was no indoor plumbing, so I had to haul water up from the stream and use an outhouse. No roommates, though, so I was happy to be in my own place!
When did you join the GHAVFD?
I joined the fire department in November of 2003. I remember it was really cold that year. I had a co-worker, Derry Dunn, who was a volunteer with GHAVFD. He’d leave work on calls to go help fight fires. After 9/11, I wanted to contribute to the community. I met with Tom Housewright, who was chief at the time, and he invited me to attend training. That’s how I got started.
What do you and your family do differently as a result of your years on the fire department?
It’s been 17 years now, so everything is second nature at this point. I bought my place up on Hummingbird Hill in 2005. We did a lot of mitigation work. Seeing evacuations first-hand, I try to maintain a constant state of readiness, and I keep a go-bag in my truck. I was thankful for that during the flood of 2013 because I couldn’t get back home for four or five days. I learned from experience to always include extra underwear in your go-bag kit!
Can you talk to me about what it was like to serve on the fire department during the flood?
I haven’t thought about it much since the event. So much happened. I got a call at 11pm or 1am on Wednesday. We went up West Creek knocking on doors, telling residents to prepare to evacuate. We were on our way to Station 2 in The Retreat to get sandbags. We turned around before we got there, though, because the water level was rising and we didn’t think we’d make it. The water on CR 43 got deep fast. The water was coming over the hoods of our cars. If the vehicle had stalled, the truck would’ve been carried down the canyon with the water. It was intense.
I got back to Glen Haven. We had a command post at the Town Hall. The new Firehouse was being built and was about 80% complete. I made the call to move the vehicles to the new fire station as it was higher ground. That turned out great because the old Firehouse washed away.
So much going on. Houses were washing away. Rescues. We called for a reverse 9-1-1, telling residents to shelter in place. Firefighters were getting trapped while trying to rescue residents from cabins. We were using extension ladders from the sides of hills to reach cabins. Estes Park sent a crew down to help.
It was non-stop rescue efforts for 24 hours. I was exhausted and needed to be relieved to get some sleep. I made a bed out of plywood on sawhorses in the firehouse to lay down. The lights were on, but I just passed out. I woke up a little while later to screaming and chaos. The lights were out. I jumped up and got dressed. I heard shouting for, ‘Evacuate!’ People were saying that we’d lost Clifton, a fellow firefighter who’d been out helping with the road barricade. They’d seen his truck float by the fire station. Everyone made for the post office. Then, it was determined that we needed to move even higher in elevation, so we relocated to Tom’s house. My heart was beating so fast. Straight adrenaline.
Somehow, Clifton showed up at Tom’s house. He said that he’s been out of his truck to check the barricade and heard a sound of a wall of water coming down on him carrying a house! His Swift Water Training kicked in, and he climbed up as his truck washed away. We found it down the canyon the next day. He had miraculously gotten up to the steep bank and rejoined the group at Tom’s place.
Tom’s cabin isn’t very big, and everyone was there checking in on firefighters and worrying that they’d been lost. No one slept that night either. When we walked out the next morning, the rain had stopped but it was total Armageddon outside. Fish were flopping in the road. Water was still flowing. The dive crew out of Estes Park Fire Department came to help out. We had people stuck in West Creek. Local climbers helped out a lot, too. They set up high lines on West Creek Road to help evacuate people. They also set up another high line close to the General Store to help evacuate people from North Fork and Fox Creek Roads.
I took two months of leave from my job to help the town with recovery and rebuilding the community. The fire department was deputized approximately a week into the flood recovery since the Sheriff’s office resources were so taxed and unable to really make it to Glen Haven. We were on our own for a bit! Estes Park Light & Power (now called ‘Power & Communications) was out here working a lot trying to restore the town to working order. I got to know those guys pretty well through coordinating efforts with them. Now I work for them!
We did a lot of accountability work after the flood. We didn’t have a lot of resources for a bit, but we did have lots of visitors coming to inspect the damage - commissioners, congresspeople... I remember doing all the paperwork in the firehouse with the doors open when a helicopter landed out front. It blew all my papers everywhere! When the media showed up to do stories on the flood’s devastation in Glen Haven, we started to get volunteers from around the country. It was incredible. My aunt reached out ot a lot of organizations, too, and got so many donations for the fire department! A truck, pants, gloves, boots... The community came together like one giant family. It was fun working together. It made you realize how short and fragile life is. There is a lot of good in people.