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SUMMIT COUNTY — After the major Rockport fire in the summer, Tollgate residents are petitioning to annex into the North Summit Fire District.
Chopping wood in light brown work overalls, Alan Powell looks like the kind of guy who can take care of himself. However, if a wildfire ever blazed towards his Tollgate Canyon home, even he admits he would need some help.
"We've been talking about this since I moved here," said Powell, after chopping more wood for the cold days ahead.
Powell has lived in Tollgate Canyon since 2004. It's a community consisting of about 400 homes on the south side of I-80 in Summit County near the Promontory development.
In July 2013, Powell said there was talk about annexing into the North Summit Fire District. He said the idea gained traction when a wildfire burned several homes in nearby Rockport.
"There were quite a few people who came and said 'We need to do something,' " said North Summit Fire District Chief Ken Smith. "It's just become time and the development up here is starting to ramp back up again. When the economy tanked, it was non-existent up here. But now, all of a sudden, you see lots of cement trucks and stuff heading up the road."
At about the same time the Rockport Fire was burning, there was a signature drive going on at Tollgate. A petition was being passed around to ask residents if they were interested in annexing into the North Summit Fire District — the same team fighting the Rockport Fire.
Tollgate doesn't have a fire station, and the Rockport Fire made a lot of people nervous.
If we can knock off 20-25 minutes from a response time, that could be huge. The difference between five minutes is one tree and a little bit of grass burning to a full blown brush fire.
–Ken Smith, North Summit Fire District Chief
52 certified signatures were collected, more than the 20 required for the annexation to be considered by Summit County. Even though the North Summit Fire Department responds to calls in Tollgate, they don't collect tax revenue from it.
"We want to help. We don't want to be a burden to North Summit Fire," Powell said. "We want to give them a little bit more of a funding base and be able to help cover the area."
Being annexed into the North Summit Fire District would likely mean Tollgate Canyon would get its own fire house. Even though North Summit Firefighters are all volunteer firefighters, some of those volunteers live in Tollgate Canyon. The annex would mean a quicker response to emergencies.
"If we can knock off 20-25 minutes from a response time, that could be huge," Smith said. "The difference between five minutes is one tree and a little bit of grass burning to a full blown brush fire."
Taxes for Tollgate Canyon residents would increase to cover the cost of joining the North Summit Fire District. However, Powell said it would be worth the extra cost each year.
"When you think of how much you pay for insurance and other things, that's a very small amount to having improved coverage up here," Powell said. "And it's not just fires. Medical issues happen here, too. We have more medical calls than we do fire calls."
A public hearing on the annexation is scheduled for January 8 at 6 p.m. in the Summit County Courthouse. If approved, Smith said he thinks a fire house can be built in Tollgate Canyon within two years.