Editor’s note: This is the latest in a series of articles about emergency services in Teller, Park and El Paso counties.
For residents of the Four Mile area of Teller County, emergency services depend on the dedication of volunteer firefighters. With a team of 66, seven of them certified emergency medical technicians, the Four Mile volunteers go the extra mile.
In a small rural area, the Four Mile team offers basic life support when responding to emergencies.
“Typically, if we have a critical patient, we’re going to immediately request a flight service to come pick them up,” said Jay Teague, chief of Four Mile Fire Protection District.
In the meantime, the firefighters prepare a landing site, if needed, for a helicopter.
Recently, Teague supervised an operation that indirectly saved the life of Four Mile resident, Mary Barrowman.
In February, Barrowman had become dehydrated while clearing brush from her property. “I blacked out mid-afternoon but kept burning for a couple of hours … and was able to get home and shower,” said Barrowman, speaking to a reporter for an article published April 15 in The Courier.
Within a short time, she experienced a headache, became nauseous, vomited, and fainted. Her husband, Glenn Barrowman, called 911.
Four Mile Capt. Anthony Benavidez was first on the scene, and called for assistance from Southwest Teller Hospital District in Cripple Creek as well as Flight for Life. With Barrowman’s condition considered critical, the Four Mile team established a landing zone on a parcel of flat land as a meeting spot for the ambulance from Southwest Teller. “Then we all carried her to the helicopter,” Teague said.
At Penrose Hospital, physicians found that Barrowman had acute metabolic encephalopathy. As of today, she has fully recovered.
No doubt about it, the volunteers at Four Mile are a mighty force. “Our biggest challenge is how remote we are,” Teague said.
Weather, too, is a factor. “High winds, poor visibility, precipitation at high altitude,” Teague said. “Half the time Flight for Life can’t get to us.”
If the helicopter can’t land, Southwest Teller arrives to take the patient by ambulance to either UCHealth Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park or to a hospital in Colorado Springs. “If the roads are good, the ride is an hour and a half,” Teague said. “That’s our biggest challenge, the time frame we have to work in.”
In the meantime, the firefighters can stabilize a critical patient in preparation for transport.
But Teague has a plan. “We’ve been working to achieve status as a BLS intercept, where we can lift the patient on the back of our ambulance and meet ALS — advanced life support districts — en route, whether it be an ambulance or a flight,” Teague said.
Under Teague’s leadership, the department that was once in danger of folding has assembled a volunteer corps and reduced response time for 911 calls. “We have a great working relationship with Southwest Teller; they’re our backbone,” he said.
The team keeps updated on the latest medical information with monthly classes given by John Mason, education liaison for Timothy Hurtado, D.O., who is Four Mile’s medical director.
Hurtado is an emergency medical specialist with Centura Health Penrose-St. Francis Hospital in Colorado Springs. “We have great relationships with Centura and UCHealth; I think Teller County benefits tremendously by having two hospital systems that provide services for us,” Teague said.
Four Mile emergency services routinely responds to construction and car accidents, often a result of the area’s steep and winding roads, particularly with tourists. “In the wintertime we get nasty conditions, and a lot of drivers slide off the road,” he said. “A huge portion of our demographics are retirees so that comes with its own host of medical issues; we have a lot of cardiac patients.”
Four Mile wildland crews
Teague is on Teller County’s wildfire commission that includes Don Angell, director of the Office of Emergency Management and county commissioner Dan Williams. The council is focused on attracting state and federal grants to help fund fire-mitigation projects. “We’re working with the Colorado State Water Board to try and protect some of our water sources in the county,” he said.
With the ongoing drought, the wildfire commission has formed partnerships with Colorado Springs Utilities, the county’s fire district, forestry services, Bureau of Land Management and county leadership. “They come together monthly to work in ways I’ve never seen in a county before,” Teague said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Four Mile is part of an initiative of Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell that enlists the services of the fire districts to form patrols to search for fire risks. Mikesell is also the county’s fire warden.
At Four Mile, the patrols are done by volunteers who aren’t necessarily firefighters or EMTs. “Every Monday, we go out and patrol public lands that surround our subdivisions,” Teague said. “We find unattended campfires every time; the most we’ve found in one day is over 40,” he said. “Tourists think they’ve put the fire out adequately and then they leave.”
However, coals on campfires can evaporate the moisture put on the fire. “And then the wind kicks up and fire takes off again,” Teague said.
In the small department, the volunteers keep things running; last year, they held a fundraising campaign to purchase an infrared drone. “We’ve been able to find several trees struck by lightning that were smoldering and burning,” Teague said. “The drone can be used for missing people, maybe a kid or grandkid.”
After three catastrophic fires, Hayman, Waldo and High Chateau in recent years in the Four Mile area, Teller County is battle-ready.
“I’ve been impressed with the county commissioners and the Office of Emergency Management — they have all these programs to try to bring this community together to be more proactive about our wildfire risk,” Teague said.
To reduce the risk of wildfire, Four Mile is also proactive. “We will come out and do an assessment on your property, make recommendations on what you can do to improve your defensible space or harden your home structure,” he said.