DENVER, CO: — Wednesday, March 18, 2015 — The Division of Fire Prevention and Control (DFPC) selected Rifle-Garfield County Airport host community for the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. The Center of Excellence was set forth in Senate Bill 14-164, which also authorized the State Fire Division to purchase or contract for aerial firefighting assets. The session uncovered the need for a mechanism for determining the efficacy of aerial firefighting, and an innovative, science- and data-focused research entity. “In short, the Center of Excellence will research, test, and evaluate existing and new technologies that support sustainable, effective, and efficient aerial firefighting techniques,” said State Fire Director Paul Cooke. The Division received six responses to its Request for Information. Those applicants were Centennial, Clear Creek County, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins-Loveland Airport, Montrose County, City of Rifle/Garfield County, and Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport/Jefferson County.
“Each of the seven communities that were vying for the Center has something unique to offer”, Cooke said. “In the end, it really comes down to which location offers the most significant and mutual benefit to the state and the host community.”The City of Rifle is located on the Western Slope along I-70, less than one hour from Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction. Rifle was selected for a number of attributes:
• Proximity to open lands and uncontrolled airspace with a variety of terrain, close proximity to high-risk wildfire areas, high altitude locations, and nearby watersheds that source much of the drinking water for nearby states.
• The majority of Colorado’s wildland fires occur in this area.
• Local understanding of the needs and risks for firefighting personnel and operations.
• Small town affordability.
• Home to the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire Management facility, which houses BLM, USFS, Colorado River Fire Rescue, and DFPC resources.
• Close proximity to the Grand Junction Air Center which provides tactical aircraft resources (air tankers, smokejumpers, lead planes, and air attack).
• Close proximity to the Colorado Army National Guard High-Altitude Aviation Training Site (HAATS).
• Free, readily available, suitable office space for three years.
• Grant writing assistance from the city.
• Potential economic development benefits to the area.
Also a factor; the willingness of Rifle’s higher education institutions, government partners, and business organizations to embrace the activities of the Center of Excellence and build on their existing expertise in workforce training, curriculum development, firefighting experience, and related mutual interests to support the success of the Center of Excellence. The jurisdiction also has garnered support from more than 21 different public and private entities throughout Colorado. Cooke says, “The location could esily become the Western Slope hub for DFPC programs.”