The County Connection: A commissionerís fire call

By Sallie Clark

       I was sitting in my county office this week, when I received a call from my employee, telling me that a house was on fire near my home. Hearing the news, I rushed out the door, headed west onto Colorado Avenue and saw two fire trucks - with lights flashing and sirens blaring - approach in my rear-view mirror. I pulled to the side and let them pass.
       Upon reaching home, I raced into the house, threw on my coat and went out the front door. I was amazed to see four fire engines parked in front of our house at 11th and W. Pikes Peak. Just across the street, hose lines were laid out, firefighters were scurrying back and forth and TV crews were on the scene. Several friends were busily snapping photos of the horrific incident. The small white Victorian was spewing smoke and flames through the upstairs window.
       As I stood there, I was reminded of being at the scene of the Old Colorado City fire just a few years before. I walked across the street to place a sympathetic arm around my neighbor, asking for assurance that no one was hurt. As I stood there, looking around, neighbors peered curiously from different places, some on front lawns, others standing on the sidewalk or in the street. Anxious faces, including those of the adjacent neighbors, watched as the firefighters methodically performed the necessary tasks at hand, working to save the house and keep the adjacent homes out of harm's way.
       So, what does this have to do with my job as an El Paso County commissioner? There is a method to my madness in this column. As I stood there, surveying the situation, it brought back memories of the fight a few years ago to save Fire Station 3. It wasn't, after all, just a fluke, a whim or without purpose. Our little Westside neighborhood had risen out of the ashes to fight city hall and as a result, my involvement in the community escalated. Was it worth all the neighborhood meetings, pep rallies, the speeches before City Council? Did the request for elected officials to hold their breath to properly demonstrate how long a minute can be when waiting for emergency help? Did it make an impact? For me, the resounding answer is yes. Involvement in our community, no matter what the issue, spurs on the effort to volunteer and help your neighbor. When I first attended a meeting on Fire Station 3, I didn't even know what the Organization of Westside Neighbors was. I barely knew who my City Council members were. Former OWN board member Tom Gallagher and I both now serve in elected offices. We didn't just get mad; we wanted to make a difference.
       There are always going to be hot topics. Whether it's the Highway 24 expansion plans, neighborhood schools staying open or golf course proposals at Bear Creek Park, issues abound. In the words of Saturday Night Live's character Roseanne Rosannadanna, "It just goes to show you, it's always somethin'."
       For every deed, there's an impact. Who'd have thought that years ago when I was sitting on the state Tourism Board or serving as president of the state Bed and Breakfast Association, that I'd someday be the board chair of the El Paso County Commissioners. With my new job, I have added responsibilities, but I'll keep you informed of issues that affect the Westside and will continue to stay involved.
       This week, as I stood there on a cold spring afternoon, a small fire alarm was ringing in my head. Never forget your roots, the people you serve, the place where you came from. Understanding the independent nature of our area and as your Westside neighbor, I know from experience that you'll keep my neighborhood compass pointed in the right direction. Most of all, know that your elected officials can't do it alone. It takes involvement from regular people, working together to create our community and to keep track of that next somethin'.

Clark, a Westside resident, represents District 3 on the Board of El Paso County Commissioners and serves as its chair. You can reach her at 520-6413 or sallieclark@elpasoco.com.