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All the Risk with No Reward

Updated: Apr 5

It was a beautiful Saturday morning in July, at "I need a cup of coffee" o'clock in the morning when I rolled up to the firehouse. The only traffic on the road up Lefthand Canyon were several pelotons of recreational cyclists, out early before the day got hot.




I was greeted by several members by the Lefthand Fire Protection District loaded up in their fire tenders, awaiting a call to emanate from their two-way radios. Once they got word, they drove up the canyon past Jamestown, before eventually pulling onto a dirt road and stopping in front of a residence with one of the best scenic views of the Indian Peaks I've seen.



For the rest of that morning and into the afternoon, a dozen volunteers completed drills. Wearing 45 lbs of firefighting gear, dragging hoses, spraying water, climbing up ladders and onto roofs. And then they had to break it all down and put everything away again. Grunt work. Afterwards was reflection and teaching. What went well? What could be done better?


They do this every month. Sometimes, its wildland fire training. Sometimes its large scale disaster training. Regardless the scenario, these dedicated residents give up a weekend monthly to give back. To drop everything at the drop of a hat to respond to a crisis and help those in need. To put their lives on the line if the call comes.


And that call did come a decade ago. It was raining and it wouldn't stop. Not for four days. In the end, 17 inches of rain fell in Boulder County, causing historic flooding and landslides that would cut communities off from each other. It wound up as the second largest airlift operation in US history behind Hurricane Katrina.


During that period, volunteer firefighters, including the members of the Lefthand Fire Protection District, worked day and night, literally. They rescued people from flood waters, from homes ready to fall into raging torrents, from shrinking islands of high ground as the waters around them rose.


They organized evacuation centers, created ad hoc landing sites, and maintained order until everybody could be saved.


No reward, all risk.


I asked a few volunteers while I was out there filming them, why they volunteered and put themselves at risk. I was told, in short, that's what you do for your community.


I was proud to cover their training. I was proud to talk to residents, resolute and stubborn and optimistic, who clawed back from destruction to create a better life. I was proud to talk to a number of the unthanked heroes in local government work. People who I witnessed firsthand over and over again over several years of recovery and rebuilding, sacrifice their time, become the subject of the public's pent up anger, ire and fear, and help Boulder County build back stronger.


I hope I did their story justice.



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