As many as 400 Aspen residents were sent a threatening, fake letter in April. supposedly from the Aspen Fire Protection District.
Fire officials are now trying to make sure everyone knows the letter wasn’t real. Dated April 1, it clearly states that residents with alarm systems must have an inspection by July 1, or “the Aspen Fire Department will not respond to activated life safety devices, with exception of carbon monoxide alarms, by order of the Aspen Fire Marshall (sic).”
Chief Rick Balentine said the Aspen Fire Protection District does not have that policy and did not send out the announcement.
“We got a phone call, in fact many phone calls from some very upset customers after receiving a letter with our name on it,” Balentine said Tuesday. Those calls started around mid April.
“It looks like our letterhead, but certainly not our style, I’ll put it that way,” he continued. “The way this letter was written, it was a very strong worded letter and it’s not something our fire department would put out to our citizens.”
Within a week of hearing about it in April, the Aspen Fire District figured out the letter was sent by volunteer firefighter Frank Bauer, as part of a mailer by the Basalt company Proguard Protection Services. Bauer is listed as president of the company and has since resigned from the Aspen Fire District after being asked to leave.
The Aspen Police Department is looking into the matter.
“I’ve done a few forgery investigations over the years,” chuckled investigator Jeff Fain. “This one was unique.”
When asked if it’s illegal to send out a letter that appears to be representing not just a person, but a fire district that also taxes residents, Fain said it’s tough to say.
“In a strict reading or interpretation of the letter, it appears on its face to be a letter from Parker Lathrop,” he explained. “But if you look at the packet as a whole, there’s room for interpretation.”
Parker Lathrop is Aspen’s fire marshal and did not sign such a letter.
So far the Aspen Fire Protection District does not plan to press charges. But they do want residents to know faulty alarms really are a problem.
“We’re getting hundreds and hundreds of false alarms coming into our dispatch center,” opined Balentine on Tuesday, “and every year it’s been getting more and more. So we got close to 1000 calls [in 2015] alone.”
Many of those are carbon monoxide alarms that are five years old or older, and need to be replaced. Balentine and others are reminding residents to get all alarms checked every year, which is already required in the fire code.