Fifty years is a lot of fires. From the first time Jim Boeckel rode to his first fire (inadvertently, as a boy) until last week, Boeckel has spent his life defending the public against fire.
Boeckel first graduated as a firefighter at the age of 16, following a family tradition. He never looked back. He traveled to Telluride in 1992 where he found the Telluride Fire Protection District (TFPD) made up of dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers struggling with a thriving area of ââcoverage. Telluride and Mountain Village are experiencing unprecedented growth. Boeckel’s arrival, said former firefighter Randy Sublett, was welcome.
âJim came to the Telluride Fire District when I was a rookie firefighter,â Sublett said. âThe department was undergoing great changes as it tried to keep up with the rapid growth of the communities of Telluride and Mountain Village. The fire department was witnessing an influx of new blood, taking over from the old guard who had served the department well for many years. But change was needed and luckily we have received this professional and experienced firefighter into our ranks.
Boeckel set to work to train the green teams.
âHe gave us a level of training the department has never seen before,â Sublett said. âMany of us have passed the FF I and FF II certifications under his tutelage. He worked nights and weekends to guide us through the extensive training. Some of us have started auto extrication training using the OB Streeper methodology. This led to the district’s first real rescue truck.
And Boeckel has taken on updating and modernizing building codes to make commercial and residential structures safer. A statement released by TFPD lists its many plans, which included fire safety initiatives including residential / commercial sprinkler programs, fire alarm and carbon monoxide requirements, as well as fire codes set. updated and new reviews of construction plans.
“His efforts over the years have met the risk reduction needs of our communities and have enabled residents and visitors to enjoy a safe environment with limited impact from structural fires and carbon monoxide events,” TFPD officials said.
But where he took off professionally was in the realm of fire investigation. His expertise has made him a valuable resource not only for the TFPD, but also for agencies such as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and other departments at the local, regional and statewide levels. In 2018, Jim was awarded the Colorado Chapter of the International Arson Investigators Association’s Fire Investigator of the Year.
Investigating the fires, Boeckel said, requires a careful and painstaking detective. He chuckled, remembering a Daily Planet photographer asking him, shortly after a structure fire in Mountain Village, if he knew how it started.
âIt’s not CSI,â Boeckel said. âIt’s going to take me a little over an hour to get through. People have kind of a misconception because there are certain programs on TV that you can just watch (the aftermath of a fire) and say okay, that’s where it all started.
District chief John Bennett likens the fire investigation to digging in “a contaminated sandbox.”
âI think it takes a special breed and an element of curiosity and interest to be able to navigate a fire investigation and find the cause,â Bennett said. âThe suppression side is what shines in the room. That’s the funny thing, but I think it takes someone pretty unique. Jim really excelled to the point that he became a pretty big asset to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. ”
Boeckel, according to Sublett, was also instrumental in bringing women into the department for the first time in its rich history.
âHe and I planned to bring in the first female firefighter, Stacy Sheridan, teaching her how to carry Joe Smart on a ladder to prove she could do the job,â Sublett said.
Bennett said that with Boeckel’s departure the department was losing a huge amount of institutional knowledge, although the two longtime colleagues agreed they were only a phone call away if Bennett or any other member TFPD needed more information.
âWhen you spend as much time in a career as Jim does and the time he has spent developing relationships, that hands-on experienceâ¦ call it institutional knowledge,â Bennett said. âThese are important things to lose. To bring someone new, you are going to have gaps.
Bennett and Sublett are in awe of Boeckel’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of all things firefighting.
âHe was right there with Benjamin Franklin,â Bennett said with a laugh. âIt has this historical value that we don’t see much in firefighters anymore. When I started he was one of my first mentors and continues to be so throughout his career. It is an important contribution to the community of anyone.
âTelluride, Mountain Village, Placerville, Telluride Fire District, the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village and the County of San Miguel owe this man a debt of gratitude for all he has done for the local firefighters,â Sublett said. . “In my current job, I train the crew in shipboard firefighting and find myself using what I learned from Jim every day.”
Boeckel struggles to find a favorite memory of his 29-year stint with TPFD, although the infamous July 4th incident in which Sublett took a shell in the back is too compelling to let go (again).
âThere has been so much over the years. Some of them have nothing to do with fire, âBoeckel said. He received a fourth “firefighter down” radio call that made him run for Firecracker Hill. âIt was just priceless (once we got the hang of it), it was good. It could have been a much worse situation, but yeah, after the fact, it was just funny.
Watching a newly trained firefighter work his first blaze was also a favorite moment for Beockel.
“It was probably one of the best things for me to seeâ¦ does anyone take that step of ‘I don’t know if I really like thisâ¦ this is going to be hot” then turns around and says : “Yeah, can we do it again? ‘ You see the bulb light up.
For his next chapter, Boeckel will literally go fishing. This summer, after a few weeks in California, he and his wife Raine will travel to Idaho, where the couple will settle as camping hosts at a Bureau of Land Management site along the Salmon River that the father of Raine has managed for the past 22 years.
He’ll miss the weight and squeal of the radio, but he’s still looking forward to fishing and spending more time with Raine. He is excited about the future of TFPD and admits he will miss the camaraderie.
âI think the next two years are going to be really exciting in the district, in terms of growth, the way things are going,â Boeckel said. âI’m disappointed not to be here for this.
His grateful colleagues at TFPD sent him in with “Thanks, Jim, we’ll take it from here.”
TFPD STATUS, MENT
Announcement of the retirement of James “JIM” Boeckel
April 7, 2021
Association fire investigator of the year. Jim’s wealth of experience and willingness to share is also evident with the amount of training, mentoring and leadership he has given to TFPD. He has been a driving force on the journey of our organizations in promoting state-certified firefighters and paramedics during his 29 years of service. He was a board member of the Colorado Fire Marshal’s Association, an instructor and board member of the Colorado Firefighters Academy, and an instructor of the Four Corners Training Officers Tactical Decision-Making Academy. He said the other day that it was time for the firefighters he has trained over the years to take up the torch and continue to educate, mentor and lead the next generation. Jim truly leaves a legacy of giving without recognition. Jim you will be missed. Remember you are always welcome home and good luck on your next adventure!
Thanks, Jim, we’ll take it from here.