Chaffee Fire hires wildfire and mitigation coordinator

Dedicated specialist focuses on preparedness and fire response

Chaffee County Fire Protection District has added a wildfire coordinator to its staff with support from Chaffee Common Ground.

Long-time firefighter Jeff Zechman started on as the department’s new wildfire and mitigation coordinator in 2022 to help residents get ready for a wildfire.

“Chaffee County is due for a significant wildfire. We can throw all the money we have at fighting that fire but that won’t be effective if we haven’t done prevention measures to begin with,” Chaffee Fire Chief Robert Bertram said.

Zechman’s role is to improve community-wide preparedness and fire response capabilities. Funding for his position is provided by a three-year Common Ground grant to the fire department.

Zechman started his firefighting career as a volunteer in 2009. He worked in Eagle County as a fire mitigation officer and has been on wildland deployments fighting fires across the Western U.S.

While fighting fires is exciting, he most enjoys talking with homeowners about wildfire safety and protecting their investments. He designed a Home Ignition Zone assessment tool that helps local property owners retain their insurance policies. He also uses his GIS skills to identify and map access points, water resources and other key features important for first responders.

Zechman manages the fire department’s commitment to Chaffee Chips, a slash haul away and chipping service funded by Common Ground.

Zechman has lived in the Arkansas River Valley since 2015 with his wife, Wendy, a behavioral specialist at Salida Middle School. The couple lives on a small Cotopaxi-area ranch where they raise chickens, honeybees and several household pets.