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A Colorado fire station closed with little explanation this summer. Now we know why.

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Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District Station 4 is pictured on Friday, Sept. 22, off Colorado Highway 9 in Breckenridge. Officials closed the station in August after months of health concerns related to a telecommunications upgrade.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District closed a station near Breckenridge in August after months of health concerns related to a telecommunications upgrade, according to documents Summit Daily News obtained through a records request.

Red, White & Blue public information officer Amanda Seidler confirmed the closure of Station 4 on Colorado Highway 9 last month in an email that said the station was temporarily closed “in an abundance of caution” as the district evaluates “certain matters.”

The fire district at the time did not respond to an emailed list of questions, including what caused the closure, when the station was closed or how long the closure is expected to last.

“Unfortunately, we have been advised by our legal counsel that because the matter involves legal issues, we cannot comment any further at this time,” Red, White & Blue Deputy Chief of Operations Drew Hoehn said last month. “We will be happy to provide greater detail once we have come to a resolution.”

But records turned over Tuesday, Oct. 24, reveal that the station closed Aug. 24, and station staff had raised health concerns as far back as last year, after T-Mobile upgraded its existing telecommunications equipment on the station.

In the past year, Red, White & Blue sent three legal notices to T-Mobile arguing that the company breached its lease at Station 4 by interfering with the fire station’s public safety operations, documents show. T-Mobile has denied it is out of compliance with Federal Communications Commission regulations.

Deputy Chief Jay Nelson said in an email Tuesday that Red, White & Blue is not currently involved in litigation with T-Mobile and that the fire district hopes to reopen the station as soon as possible.

Issues at the station began after T-Mobile installed new telecommunications equipment in the summer of 2022, according to documents. In September 2022, three station employees sent emails to Red, White & Blue officials reporting static buzzing from speakers and radio interference at the station.

Then, on Oct. 10, 2022, an engine captain wrote in an email that staff have witnessed “a few strange things happen” since the upgrade at Station 4, including “a few random headaches.”

The engine captain noted that the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has permissible exposure limits related to telecommunications equipment and requested that Red, White & Blue contact T-Mobile to investigate the exposure levels in the station.

“This would put us all at great ease knowing that we are not being exposed to any unsafe levels of radiation from this new equipment,” the engine captain wrote.

On Nov. 10, 2022, a lawyer representing Red, White & Blue sent a notice to T-Mobile that states, “the interference caused by (T-Mobile) has rendered the Station 4 alerting system inoperable, resulting in delayed dispatching of Station 4 emergency response personnel and jeopardizing public safety.”

A month later, T-Mobile wrote back that they had hired a contractor to run signal interference testing at the station and found the equipment did not cause signal interference, according to documents.

On April 20, former Red, White & Blue Fire Chief Jim Keating, who retired earlier this year, notified the district’s board of directors in an email that T-Mobile had placed a warning at the station.

“Recently T-Mobile staff has placed placards both internally and externally at Station 4 stating the following, ‘Transmitting antennas may cause radio frequency fields beyond this point that may exceed the (Federal Communications Commission) general public exposure limit,'” Keating wrote. “This has placed the District in a serious legal position.”

The email states that the fire district’s legal counsel requested immediate approval from the board to file legal action against T-Mobile “to shut down their site immediately and if they are unable to deem the site safe to remove the equipment and permanently shut down the site.”

Then-vice president of the board Richard Rafferty replied, “Yes, shut it down.”

Another board member, Jim Brook, wrote in an email that he also supports “immediate actions to ensure the health and safety of our personnel, including temporary and permanent shutdown of the T Mobile transmission site.”

“Further, I would not rely on T Mobile to provide assurance that the site is safe – rather we should hire a qualified independent consultant to assess conditions and advise us,” Brook wrote.

On May 26, a lawyer for Red, White & Blue sent a second notice to T-Mobile stating that the interference issues had not been solved, noting the warning signage and stating, “the threat to firefighter health created by the T-Mobile equipment is creating difficulty with staffing the station, which negatively affects public safety.”

T-Mobile responded that the interference issue had been solved months earlier and that the signage is mandated by the Federal Communications Commission “in connection with any licensed antenna facility that emits radio frequency (RF) regardless of actual RF emission levels.”

On Aug. 15, a team from eleEOS EMF Testing and Energy Audits visited Station 4 to gather data, according to documents. Then, on Aug. 24, Nelson advised staff in an email that Station 4 had been closed “solely in an abundance of caution” until the district gets a better understanding of the data collected by the company.

On Aug. 30, Hoehn wrote in an email that the diagnostic test results “to no surprise” demonstrated measurable readings of both electromagnetic frequency and wireless radiation in the station.

“The readings, however, do not exceed the (Federal Communication Commission) maximum permissible exposure level of 580 microwatts per square centimeter,” Hoehn wrote.

Hoehn said in the email that the contractor provided multiple mitigation recommendations that the fire district will be moving forward with immediately.

“We will not reoccupy the station until we are confident that we have mitigated the problem,” Hoehn said. “We will also be sending notice to both cell companies of our intent to terminate their respective leases at the earliest available convenience.”

On Sept. 11, Red, White & Blue’s lawyer followed up on the May notice to T-Mobile, noting the station closure and pushing back on the claim that the signage was not indicative of actual radio frequency emissions. T-Mobile responded citing a report from a contractor who assessed the property in 2022 and found T-Mobile to be compliant with regulations, according to documents.

In an email dated Oct. 9 with the subject line “Station 4 update,” Hoehn wrote that there are no changes to the closure of Station 4 anticipated within the next few weeks and that the fire protection district has hired another contractor to take measurements at the station.

Summit Daily requested a fee waiver for the public records request, citing a public interest in why a station funded by taxpayers is closed. Red, White & Blue, declined to provide a fee waiver, charging about $80 for four hours of research.

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