Colorado grieves death of Summit County firefighter Ken Jones as investigations continue
FRISCO — Firefighters around Colorado are wearing black stripes across their badges, and organizations throughout the county are lowering their flags to half-staff this week as residents in the area mourn the death of Ken Jones, a firefighter with Summit Fire & EMS who fell to his death at a fire near Copper Mountain on Saturday.
While questions surrounding the incident persist, the tragic loss of one of the county’s first responders has undoubtedly sent reverberations throughout the area as his families at home and at the fire department, along with the greater Summit County community, continue to grieve.
“I hired Ken in September of 2000,” Summit Fire Chief Jeff Berino said during an emotional press briefing Monday afternoon. “He came in as a young kid with a big smile and bright eyes, ready to take on the world. He was just like a sponge, absorbed everything we had to throw at him. It was incredible. Ken had a heart of gold and was well respected by everyone in our organization.
“It’s an emotional rollercoaster right now for all of us. Responders deal with death frequently. … When it’s one of your own, it’s a completely different scenario. It’s testing us as an organization. But we call it staying Summit Fire strong, and we intend to stay that way.”
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At about 2 a.m. Dec. 7, a crew with Summit Fire responded to a fire at the Bridge End condominium building near Copper Mountain. The crew began simultaneously doing a “hot lap” — a 360-degree walk around the building to assess the situation — while evacuating the residents and visitors inside. Berino said the fire was primarily on the roof, and the crew made a decision to further assess it.
Jones and another firefighter accessed the roof via an internal ladder inside the building. Berino said Jones was fully equipped at the time, carrying protective gear and his self-contained breathing apparatus, more than 35 pounds in total. Jones fell to his death from five stories up.
The department hasn’t released any further information about how exactly Jones fell, though Berino noted that there are ongoing investigations locally through Summit Fire and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office along with investigations by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The investigation is expected to take weeks and will look into building conditions, weather, the department’s procedures, the nature of the fire and myriad other potential variables.
“All I can say as far as the accident is he did fall off of the roof, which resulted in his death,” Berino said. “I can’t get into more details.”
Jones underwent an autopsy Sunday in Boulder, according to Berino. Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said the manner of death was accidental and confirmed the cause was blunt force trauma injuries due to the fall.
Fire crews from Vail Fire and Emergency Services and the Eagle River Fire Protection District arrived shortly after to relieve the Summit Fire crews for emotional purposes.
The fire displaced about 35 guests. They were allowed back inside to retrieve belongings during the day Saturday, and the building was returned to the homeowners Sunday night.
Berino said the fire likely was caused by an apparent malfunction of a heating appliance in a chimney chase. Berino noted that the building was constructed up to code in the 1970s, though wasn’t equipped with a sprinkler system. No civilians were injured during the fire.
“The firefighters did a very good stop, as you can imagine in the middle of the night, up on the roof of a tall building,” Berino said. “So the actions of the Summit County firefighters and the Eagle County firefighters were outstanding in making that stop.”
A community in sorrow
Berino said there already has been a considerable reaction from community members, who have reached out to share their condolences with the fire district and to help however they can — whether it’s bringing in gifts or food or just stopping in to share their thoughts.
The reaction has grown far beyond Summit County, as well. On Monday, Gov. Jared Polis ordered flags across the state be lowered in Jones’ honor and gave Summit County permission to lower flags through Friday, Dec. 13. Additionally, 120 of Jones’ colleagues from the Denver Fire Department have volunteered to stand watch over his body until his funeral, crews from around the region have offered to fill in so Summit’s staff and crews can attend the service, and a plaque with Jones’ name has been added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
“We appreciate the outpouring of support from our community,” Berino said. “We welcome the community to stop by our fire stations. The doors are open, and our staff wants to share with the community.”
For Berino, the community’s answer to the tragedy is well fitting for a man who dedicated his life to service. Jones lived in Lakewood with his wife, Keri, and his two children.
At work, Berino said Jones was relatively stoic compared with the rest of Summit’s firefighters but maintained a “unique wit,” a dry sense of humor and was ready to interject with sudden bursts of wisdom whenever the situation called for it. Furthermore, his dedication to job was unquestioned.
“He brought a smile to my face right away, and the reason I hired him was because I could tell he had a passion,” Berino said. “And that’s something we look for. We can teach our firefighters how to tie knots and how to deal with fires, but they have to have the passion and the drive and the love to serve the community. And Ken did.”
Outside of work, Berino said Jones enjoyed spending time outdoors, taking his kids to Bear Creek Lake Park or riding his prized motorcycle. But his true affections remained always with his family.
“Family meant everything to Ken,” Berino said. “His two children were his world.”
Berino met with Jones’ family Sunday and said that while they’re obviously still grieving, they have a good support group to help them out.
“The house was packed with family,” Berino said. “It was good to see that support, and we will make sure the family gets all the support they need financially and emotionally.”
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Waterstone Community Church in Littleton. While a large procession is expected, with fire engines from around the state participating, the funeral itself will be closed to the public at the family’s request. Though, Berino noted there might be a local service in Summit County sometime in January.
The Summit Foundation has established a fund for the Jones family, and contributions can be made at summitfoundation.org/give/donate by entering Jones’ name in the comments or mailed to P.O. Box 4000, Breckenridge, CO, 80443. Mailed donations should be labeled “In Memory of Ken Jones.”
Additionally, individuals looking to send flowers, cards or other expressions of sympathy should send them to the Summit Fire headquarters at 35 County Shops Road, Frisco, CO, 80443. West Metro Fire also has agreed to accept flowers or cards at 3535 S. Kipling St. in Lakewood.
“We’re dealing with it minute by minute,” Berino said. “Our crews are fairly resilient, but this is a first for us. And it’s testing us as an agency like we’ve never been tested before. But we’ve got a strong group and a wonderful family.”
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