Geist Team Members Help High Park Fire Relief

Geist Team Members Help High Park Fire Relief

25 July 2012, Fort Collins, CO—On Saturday June 9th, smoldering brush from a lightning strike began to spread 15 miles outside of Fort Collins, CO and started what would become an 87,285 acre wildfire and a level one FEMA event. As members of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), two team members from Geist DCiM responded by giving their time and expertise during this emergency situation.
 
Darren Kalmbach and Jeff Ford were among the 68 ARES volunteers from District 10 who set up and managed back up communications for emergency workers. Formed in 1935 by the American Radio Relay League, ARES consists of licensed amateur radio operators who voluntarily register their qualifications and equipment for communications duty when disaster strikes.

Kalmbach explains, “Much of the local emergency communication technology is very high tech. In most situations this technology provides added functions essential to emergency situations. However, in less ideal situations like the fire, they can fail. Our system is set up to communicate using a different set of conditions—we use much more basic, reliable communications for a very specific purpose.”

And that purpose for the following three weeks after the start of the fire was to provide reliable communications during spot failures, for relief stations, and provide 911 communications to returning residents where there was no phone or cell service.

ARES functions as an essential part of emergency back-up communications during a disaster. The role of these volunteers is vital to providing comprehensive, redundant communications. Ford explains, “The fire actually ran through the repeaters where the emergency dispatch had their technology. Luckily there was no major failure, but if there had been, ARES would be the only line of communication for emergency personnel.”

Image High Park Fire in Colorado.The 68 volunteers from district 10, many of which have full time jobs,  put in over 2,000 man hours in just three weeks. They were stationed all over the area—even in the canyon at the fire line.

Ford was one volunteer stationed in the canyon at the outbreak of the fire. He provided emergency communications to the Colorado state patrol manning the road block. “We’re all affected by this fire. Being out there on the first day of the fire, seeing the destruction and working towards a common goal was very rewarding. We know we’re all affected by this fire—we’re a team.”

Kalmbach, who was providing communication for the Red Cross, was able to offer support for his co-worker and team member by tracking Ford’s movements in the canyon back at his station. “If his truck stopped moving, I’d know immediately and would be able to alert the required personnel.”

For Kalmbach and Ford, their volunteer time was more than just providing communication—it was about helping their community. 

“Seeing it from the front lines was really a different experience. People ran from their house with no clothing, food, or basic essentials. The entire community stepped up bringing clothes, shampoo, soap, and food. We were just part it.” Ford says.

Kalmbach agrees, “It was really rewarding to see how much the community responded to the need—to see the donations coming in and how much people helped out. It makes me proud to be part of it.”

The High Park Fire burned uncontained for over three weeks and across more than 87,000 acres. At least 259 homes were destroyed. The fire is currently 100% contained, but continues to burn.

Images courtesy of John Mitchell.

Visit HelpColoradoNow.org for a list reputable responding agencies that are taking donations.