The town of Bayfield has proclaimed March 16 as Upper Pine River Fire Protection District Day from now on to show gratitude for the district’s proactive efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Upper Pine took an early leading role in offering COVID-19 testing and vaccines to communities in eastern La Plata County – increasing access for remote and rural areas. The town celebrated the district’s efforts in a small event Tuesday at Town Hall after making a proclamation in early March.
“I’ve just been hearing from people in town saying, ‘It’s so awesome what our fire department is doing,’” said Bayfield Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington. “I didn’t know how important the pioneer efforts of Bruce Evans were. When I heard about that, I thought people need to know about this.”
The fire district and its chief, Evans, realized early that San Juan Basin Public Health would need help administering vaccines as the state moved through its phased vaccination program.
Upper Pine was one of the first two fire districts in the state to certify as a vaccine distribution center. The Thornton Fire Department was the other agency to gain early approval.
When the general public – people age 70 and older – became eligible to receive the vaccine in January, Upper Pine was ready. On Jan. 9, it offered the first community vaccination clinic in La Plata County.
Upper Pine focuses its vaccination efforts on the 81122 ZIP code, which matches its 265-square-mile district in eastern La Plata County.
“I honestly believe because of his efforts, he brought vaccinations to Bayfield probably two months before we would have seen them,” Tarkington said, adding it was “huge” for seniors and teachers in the community.
The fire district was able to offer those clinics because SJBPH recommended their approval to the state, Evans said. That’s in part because the two entities have built relationships over time through the Southwest Healthcare Coalition.
“It’s nice to be recognized by the town, but it wasn’t necessary,” Evans said. “Granted these guys have been working really hard. For the troops, it’s a really big deal to see they really are making a difference.”
The first COVID-19 community testing events were primarily held in Durango, so Upper Pine brought testing to the Bayfield region.
That effort was also helped by partnerships with the Animas Surgical Hospital and Mercy Regional Medical Center, Evans said.
“It’s nice to be recognized by a government authority and one of our partners, the town of Bayfield ... that we did step up and did make sure that people in rural America were getting the vaccine,” Evans said.