Community, Academy partner for emergency response

Staff Sgt. Ronald Young directs traffic around a vehicle rollover accident on Briargate Parkway near Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 14, 2010. No one was injured in the accident. Sergeant Young is assigned to the Air Force Academy's 10th Security Forces Squadron.The Academy's fire department and 10th SFS work alongside Colorado Springs and Colorado authorities to respond to accidents along the Interstate 25 corridor near the Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)

Staff Sgt. Ronald Young directs traffic around a vehicle rollover accident on Briargate Parkway near Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs, Colo., Jan. 14. No one was injured in the accident. Sergeant Young is assigned to the Air Force Academy's 10th Security Forces Squadron. The Academy's fire department and 10th SFS work alongside Colorado Springs and Colorado authorities to respond to accidents along the Interstate 25 corridor near the Academy. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- If you drive along Interstate 25 between Colorado Springs and Monument, you may have seen Air Force Academy firefighters and security forces patrollers working alongside their counterparts from Colorado Springs, El Paso County or Colorado emergency response agencies.

The business of who responds to emergencies on the Academy -- which includes eight miles of Interstate 25 -- is a complicated business, but the Academy, city, county and state agencies work seamlessly to ensure public safety.

Nine separate mutual-aid agreements cover the working relationship between the Academy's responders and anyone adjacent to the base perimeter, said Academy fire chief Ernst Piercy. The agreements spell out how each of the nearby fire departments work together during an emergency, whether it occurs on or off base.

One of the Academy fire officers, assistant fire chief Ron Prettyman, has worked at the Academy for 2½ years out of his 23-year career as a firefighter.

"I've responded all up and down the interstate," Mr. Prettyman said. "Our relationship with all the other organizations is excellent. We work well, and most of us immediately recognize one another because we work together so frequently."

The Academy Fire Department assisted Fort Carson during a major wildfire for more than three days in 2008. They have also responded to Colorado Springs during major fires in the city.

"During a significant apartment fire, we responded to Colorado Springs Fire Station 19 and covered their district in the evening. The following morning, we dispatched our ladder truck to the scene of the emergency," Chief Piercy said.

Police agreements also give each agency involved a framework within which to provide law enforcement and investigative services, said Lt. Lari Sevene, the public information officer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

"The agreements pertain to a variety of incidents, from (driving under the influence) to domestic violence," Lieutenant Sevene said. "Major crimes will fall under the agreement, as well as some minor crimes."

The Academy's 10th Security Forces Squadron and Sheriff's office sometimes work together on investigations, particularly in domestic violence cases where one party is in the military and the other is civilian, the lieutenant said. The majority of cases, however, typically fall under one agency or the other.

The Sheriff's office receives few calls for service from the Academy, Lieutenant Sevene noted.

"We have some activity with our school resource officer (at Air Academy High School), but fortunately, it's intermittent," she said. "Calls to the Academy are relatively infrequent, which is definitely a good thing."

Because the Academy is a military installation as well as a university, it has resources unique to the Colorado Springs area. Examples include an underwater dive rescue capability and an aircraft rescue firefighting vehicle. However, Academy firefighters cannot be everywhere at once, and the Academy Fire Department relies on help from its local partners to respond to major incidents on the installation, Chief Piercy said.

"The capability that our community partners bring to the fight is absolutely essential," he said.

Even when the agencies aren't teaming up to respond to an emergency, they talk regularly to share information, Lieutenant Sevene said.

"I cannot think of a time when there has been a negative interaction, and that speaks volumes," said the lieutenant, who has worked with the Sheriff's office nearly 14 years.

She added that the Academy's support has always been solid.

"In an instance where we need backup, it's nice to know we can make that call (to the Academy)," Lieutenant Sevene said. "The folks at the Air Force Academy are very responsive. It speaks very well of the community and how we work together.

"The support we get from your organization has been tremendous," she continued. "The response is immediate -- there's never a moment's hesitation. That's the cooperation and relationship that we will continue to foster."