In harm’s way, Strike Team keeps the water flowing

Elite six-man team among first responders when fires, floods and other emergencies threaten the water supply.

May 10, 2017 | By: Jay Adams

From the mountains to the plains, floods to fires, name the emergency and Denver Water’s Strike Team is ready to respond.

The Strike Team is a group of six hydropower and dam facility operators who train year-round to be responders in the event of an emergency involving Denver Water.

“There are a number of emergencies that can impact Denver Water,” said Heath Stuerke, Strontia Springs Reservoir supervisor. “These guys are ready to respond to any type of incident on a moment’s notice.”

One of the biggest threats the team trains for is wildfires. “Our dams and reservoirs are surrounded by forests, so it’s critical that we’re prepared if a wildfire breaks out,” Stuerke said.

Denver Water's Strike Team prepares for the work capacity test in Waterton Canyon. Left to right: Andrew Stetler, Jeff Rybolt, Rick Geise, Jay Joslyn, Cory Dunkin and Heath Stuerke.
Denver Water’s Strike Team prepares for the Work Capacity Test in Waterton Canyon. Left to right: Andrew Stetler, Jeff Rybolt, Rick Geise, Jay Joslyn, Cory Dunkin and Heath Stuerke.

The Hayman Fire in 2002 and Lower North Fork Fire in 2012, as well as severe flooding in 2013 and 2015 are among the natural disasters that have threatened Denver Water facilities.

Strike Team members must obtain an Incident Qualification Card, also known as a Red Card, which allows them to enter or remain inside an evacuation zone in the event of a wildfire or major incident so they could operate the dam in that area.

To earn a Red Card, team members need to complete a “pack test” mandated by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

Strike Team members took the test April 26 in Waterton Canyon, southwest of Denver in Jefferson County. “We have to walk 3 miles with 45 pounds on our backs in 45 minutes,” said Jay Joslyn, Strike Team member. “It’s tough, but we all did it with time to spare.”

Strike Team members discuss what to do if an emergency happened at Strontia Springs Dam.
Strike Team members discuss what to do if an emergency happened at Strontia Springs Dam.

The team members have cross-trained on how to operate all of Denver Water’s major dams and have also attended firefighter training at the Colorado Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy.

“If a fire breaks out on Denver Water property, Strike Team members would not fight the fire, but act as liaisons with firefighters,” Stuerke said.

The Strike Team was originally developed to prepare for wildfires, but could be called to respond to other emergencies, such as floods or dam safety issues.

“We have property spread across 12 counties, so it’s important to have an all-hazard team that’s ready for fires, floods, dam safety incidents, major infrastructure problems and water quality issues,” Stuerke said.

Denver Water has one Strike Team now, but is developing other quick-response teams from various departments across the organization, according to Becky Franco, emergency management manager.

The Strike Team originated to respond to wildfires, but could be dispatched to other incidents involving Denver Water.
The Strike Team originated to respond to wildfires, but could be dispatched to other incidents involving Denver Water.

Franco said Denver Water’s long-term goal is to have an incident management team that could help other water utilities across the state through Colorado’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network.

“We want our team members to be credentialed with the State of Colorado for deployments,” Franco said. “We know that specialized training is the best way to be prepared in the future.”

“Denver Water supplies water to more than a million people across metro Denver,” said Cory Dunkin, Strike Team member. “Our goal is to make sure that no matter what happens on Denver Water property, we can always maintain a basic level of operations to keep water flowing to our customers.”

“It feels good to be on the team,” Joslyn said. “We’re here to help in any way we can, and we’re ready to go 24/7, 365 days a year.”

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