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Hometown Heroes: El Pomar fulfills mission during region's back-to-back wildfires

By: Lisa Walton, lisa.walton@gazette.com
March 23, 2014 Updated: March 23, 2014 at 11:46 am
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photo - Terrance McWilliams, director of military and veteran affairs for El Pomar  and Noel Gugliotta a fellow at the organization,  deliver a check to  Tom Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer for the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross. Photo courtesy of El Pomar
Terrance McWilliams, director of military and veteran affairs for El Pomar and Noel Gugliotta a fellow at the organization, deliver a check to Tom Gonzalez, Chief Executive Officer for the Pikes Peak Chapter of the American Red Cross. Photo courtesy of El Pomar 

When wildfires burned across the region in 2012 and 2013, the El Pomar Foundation helped to make back-to-back disasters less devastating for the community.

During 2013's Black Forest fire, the organization awarded more than 30 grants totaling more than $600,000, said Terrance McWilliams, director of military and veteran affairs at El Pomar. The grants funded new equipment for firefighters and paid for the lodging and other needs of people who were displaced.

"They were really there for us," said Tom Gonzalez, chief executive officer of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross. "We had the three wildfires on June 11 (in the region) and we were able to open up 5 shelters within an hour or less time. The reason for that kind of response rate was because we were able to expand our services to the community through the capital support that El Pomar provided."

Gonzalez said money from the organization enabled them to buy two $12,000 trailers to store cots, blankets and any other supplies needed in the event of a large evacuation.

In the aftermath of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire, McWilliams went to fire stations around the area to identify critical needs.

The first thing on the list was utility task vehicles for quick access to mountainous terrain, he said.

The foundation provided money for the purchase of UTVS at more than a dozen fire stations between Teller and El Paso County, he said. Grant funds additionally went to supply firefighters with upgraded personal protection equipment and fire shelters.

That year, the organization awarded almost 60 grants totaling more than $1 million, McWilliams said. Of that total, $600,000 went to the Colorado Springs Fire Department to fund fire mitigation efforts for the next three years.

The money was provided by The El Pomar Foundation's Wild Land Fire Fund, which was created by trustees after 2002's wildfire season. Since then, it has granted to more than 170 volunteer fire organizations throughout the state.

"They've been a blessing," said Broadmoor Fire Rescue captain Fred Monroe. Their fire department was able to buy a Polaris off-roading vehicle, new protective gear and fire shelters with the grant funds. "They have helped an endless amount of fire departments throughout the Front Range," he said.

The Black Forest fire was still raging when El Pomar officials dropped off a check to Falcon firefighters, said Falcon Fire Protection District Chief Trent Harwig.

"They asked 'what would make this better right now?' For us, it was communication."

With grants from El Pomar, they were able to buy six more Bendix King radios than they would have otherwise been unable to afford.

"They've helped us in the past, and I'm sure they will again in the future," Harwig said.

For their contributions to the community, El Pomar was selected by executive board members of the Red Cross to receive the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross's Hometown Heroes community partner award.

"It is an honor to receive the Community Partner Hero Award," said El Pomar Foundation president R. Thayer Tutt Jr.in a statement. "We are grateful, however, as a foundation for all of Colorado, we are just fulfilling the mission set out by our founders; to enhance, encourage, and promote the current and future well-being of the people of Colorado."

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