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Witte, Votruba Both Running for KCFPD Board Positions

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR:  The April 25th edition of the Kiowa County Independent included an in-depth feature article on the experience of Zach Kopasz, a hotshot wildland firefighter who resides in Kiowa County.  Kopasz is also running for a board position in the upcoming election. 
It has been the long standing policy of the Independent to not endorse candidates.  “Taking the Heat” was not an exception to that policy.  Nonetheless, this week, the staff at the Independent felt it was only fair to provide some insight into the other two candidates running for the board—again, not as an endorsement of any kind but more in an endeavor to be fair and equal in our coverage of this important election. 
With the fire district now a reality, procedural functions have kicked into gear, including the upcoming election of two new board members.  There are three candidates whose names will appear on the May 8 ballot: Zach Kopasz, Shannon Votruba and Teresa Witte.  While these people may be well known to residents of the county, what follows is a profile of Votruba and Witte told in their own words and including their background of experiences related to fire department(s), their observations of current operations, their thoughts on the role of a KCFPD Board member and, if elected, what goals and priorities they would advocate to put in place.
First up, Shannon Votruba. Shannon currently resides in Sheridan Lake.

Background of experiences.
“My role [with the Kiowa County Fire Department] was to help move vehicles, run firefighters to and from vehicles, inform the public & press of information per the Chief (Public Information Officer). I also was of support to families if they we're affected in some way. I was there with [one individual] as her house was burning. I was there as support for [one individual] when she was beside herself as these events were taking place. When [an injured individual] was lying on the side of the road, I held her hand and met her and [another individual] at the hospital. Per her request I called her mother to let her know what was taking place and we stayed with [the second individual] until [the injured individual] was flown out. Howard and I drove [the second individual] to Denver and stayed until the mother was able to be with them at the hospital, just so they were not alone after the accident. That had been my main role in the department and those are only a few examples.  and to be honest they don't even need to be talked about because it's not about what is done it's about supporting those in need at a time of need. I basically helped where I was needed.  I attended most of their training on the East end to help with paperwork and make sure the guys had food and water and things like that. Support was my main function.”

What has being involved with the Kiowa County Fire Department taught you?
“You don't have to have volunteered for the Fire Department in the area to know fighting fires here is hard. Kiowa County is large and spread out, so when you look at the size and the number of volunteers you can truly see where issue are.  The Departments run on nearly no budget and these volunteers still give it their all. Equipment that is older has also been a problem in fighting fires in the county. With donations that have been made and continue to come in, the departments are becoming more adequately equipped. Water is also an issue when the firefighters are on a call. Water is not readily available, and, depending on where you are, you may have to drive a ways to refill you truck. In this county, we are very lucky that farmers and others have no problem sending tankers to help fill the trucks. It says a lot about our county and the people that live here. The wind here is also a big issue. The volunteers who are out on calls find out quickly that our winds can make a fire go from something rather small to a roaring field fire in minutes. You never know what the conditions will be like in this area and the volunteers in this county work very hard at making sure they can be on top of whatever may be thrown their way.”

General observations, noted strengths and weaknesses.
“I have noticed that our departments are undermanned, and that it is hard to keep volunteers on. Funding is also an issue and older equipment is a big problem. I know that new radios have been recently donated to the district and that more will soon be on their way. I know that radios that work is something that has been a big issue on the East end of the county. So, if newer models are available, it would be great for all those volunteers whose radios don't always pick up calls. I also know recently that newer turn out gear was donated and that those volunteers in need are able to get better gear. This is a major plus seeing as some gear was very worn and needed to be replaced. The donations that have been received by both the past and current chiefs have been blessings to both the county and new district. I feel this is a major strength of the district. There are volunteers out there who are not afraid to reach out and ask for help for the district. If it were not for some of these efforts, we may not have newer radios, turn out gear or newer trucks. If I am elected to the board, I would like to see the area of volunteers addressed. We need to look at being more open to people who want to volunteer.  Community members need to know that everyone who is capable and wanting to volunteer is welcome. We are in an area that is so open and spread we need volunteers.”

“If elected I think one of the main priorities of the board should be the continued safety of our volunteers. These volunteers should know this board stands behind getting them the proper safety equipment to keep them safe. Budgeting of training's and equipment should be a main priority. I understand on a budget that certain things have to be in place but we have to make sure that our volunteers are equipped and safe and properly trained. I would also like to see the board come together more as one with equal representation from throughout the county. East, Central and West end need to be more equally represented. That is one of the major reasons I am running. I would like the voices of all be equally heard. Right now the majority of the board is from the central part of the county.  We need to remember that this is a County District and the board should reflect that.”

Role of the KCFPD Board and organizational structure.
“When it comes to the overall structure of the district, I feel the board needs to remember they are the ones who are ultimately responsible for all things that happen in the district. You have your chief, who is over all his departments and volunteers, but the board needs to remember the public will look to them when things happen or there are questions. This board needs to be one that is strong and can make decisions based on facts and what is put before them and not on feelings alone. This board needs to remember they are here to help form a strong district that can run even on small numbers and small budgets. Donations need to be continued to be sought out, and those volunteers that take care of helping in that area need to be thanked and remembered. The board needs to remember its volunteers are just that--volunteers. They have other jobs and lives, and yet they still give their all. Recognition is something this board needs to truly look at when it comes to its volunteers. These people cannot be forgotten. I feel the board needs to be run just like any other company or board, and that they need to be unified. Yes disagreements are something that will happen, but, in the end, the board needs to remember what they are doing is for the safety and well-being of the district.”

Additional comments.
“It is time for the wishes of all the county to be heard and for the needs to be met. It is time for a change, and for a voice to be active for what is needed in all areas of Kiowa County. I may not have firefighting experience, but then how many on the board truly do? A few, and that is all. I am a mom of five children, I am actively involved in the school, our church and anything else in our community. We have lived here for 13 years, and this is home. We would not move back to Denver or Colorado Springs, as this is where we plan to retire. We are a fire family who actively supports the department and who wants to see this district succeed. I am married to a firefighter and hear all the calls.  These volunteers do the best they can with what they have. These volunteers need to be recognized and this board needs to be strong.  It is time to elect someone who can help see things move forward and see this district thrive. Thank you all and if you have any questions I can answer please contact me and I will gladly answer them to the best of my knowledge. 719-691-5921”

Second up, Teresa Witte.  Teresa currently resides in Eads.

General response.
“Regarding my position on the Kiowa County Fire Protection District, my initial goal was to aid in getting the fire district up and running for the county. That goal has been met, thanks to the residents of Kiowa County, and we are beginning to take steps to improve the training and equipment that our volunteers need in order to fight fires safely.  Our district is still basically brand new and has many needs, and I am willing to continue working as a member of the Board of Directors for another term so that I can assist in working toward the priority needs.  As the Kiowa County Emergency Manager, I feel that my experience as the EM is directly relevant and helpful to the board and the district.  The training I have received for my job as Emergency Manager is directly helpful with regard to equipment needs and potential training for firefighters.  Finally, I am simply a concerned citizen wanting to give our volunteer firefighters the opportunity to do their job safely.”

Role of the board.
“Mainly, I see the board as being the facilitator for the functioning of the district.  We hope to enable our district to obtain grants and other funding that will provide our volunteers with what they have not been previously able to obtain.
Our current fire department strengths include our District Chief and our Station Chiefs, as well as our active volunteers who, at a moment’s notice, will drop everything to put out the fire threatening our properties.  Our weakness has been our inability to provide adequate funding so that these great volunteers are not required to use antique equipment, but that is part of the change we hope to bring.”
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