Good morning, Boulder. 🌄 First up: Boulder County’s early primary election results — with a way-too-close-to-call race for county commissioner. Plus, the return of Mental Health Partners’ 24/7 walk-in crisis center, the upcoming closure of community Covid testing sites and a whole lot more.

Today’s top feature story by Sophie Crawford looks at the crucial issue of mental health struggles among first responders. She spoke with Boulder County firefighters and EMS workers about dealing with second-hand trauma — and the organizations that are stepping in to help.

Thanks for reading,

Jezy, managing editor

Note cards from kids offer messages of thanks to the Louisville Fire Station. Credit: Sophie Crawford

Quickly

🌤️ Mostly sunny, warm: Expect highs in the low 90s today under a mix of clouds and sunshine. Don’t rule out a stray shower or thunderstorm in the afternoon.

🗳️ New sheriff in town: Curtis Johnson, a division chief with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, will be Boulder’s next county sheriff. “Thank you all for your support. I’ll see you soon,” Johnson said in a brief video post on Facebook. He spent more than $100,000 on the Democratic primary, ultimately besting his rival, Louisville Police Chief David Hayes, by a 30-point margin, according to early election-night results (as of 1:00 a.m.). Johnson also has the backing of Sheriff Joe Pelle, who was first elected in 2003 and is not seeking reelection. No Republicans are seeking the office.

🤷 Very tight race for commissioner seat: Hours after the polls closed on election night, the race for county commissioner, the most competitive and expensive race in the Boulder County Democratic primary, was too close to call. The two candidates squaring off for a seat on the commission are Elaina Shively, director of the Center for Prevention and Restorative Justice at the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, and Louisville Mayor Ashley Stolzmann, a chemical engineer. As of the 1:00 a.m. unofficial results posting, Stolzmann leads Shively by 591 votes, or 1.4%, with 43,671 of votes tallied so far. No Republican candidates are running for the seat. Counting resumes today.

Plus HD49: In the race for House District 49, Katie Lehr, a co-owner of a construction firm in Boulder, won the Republican primary for a chance to unseat Rep. Judy Amabile, a Democrat from Boulder. It would be a major upset were the seat to flip Republican; Democrats have a strong advantage in terms of campaign fundraising and registered voters in the district.

📅 Food Tax Rebate deadline tomorrow: The deadline to apply for the city’s 2022 Food Tax Rebate, which this year will provide $92 to qualifying individuals and $280 for families, is Thursday, June 30, according to the city. Most of the money goes to families with young children, people 62 and older or people with a disability. The rebate is intended to lessen the burden of sales taxes placed on food items.

🆕 MHP walk-in crisis center back to 24/7: Mental Health Partners, Boulder County’s largest mental health nonprofit, says its walk-in crisis center at 3180 Airport Rd. will once again be open 24/7. The center was previously closed on weekends due to staffing challenges, after getting permission from state regulators on May 10 to continue operating the facility at reduced hours through June. (See John Herrick’s coverage of the closure and why it matters here and here.)

😷 Most community Covid testing sites to close: Via Boulder County Public Health: “Effective July 1, all community COVID testing sites, apart from the location at the Stazio Ballfields will be closing. The Stazio free testing site will remain open but will be temporarily closed from June 27 to July 5.” That means no community testing sites will be open July 1–5. Free at-home tests can be ordered here, and more resources for getting tested in Boulder County can be found here.

🌎 Climate convo: Join the City of Boulder tonight from 5:30–7 p.m. for the first event in its three-part webinar series on addressing the climate crisis locally. Renewable and resilient energy systems will be the topic of conversation during the virtual information session. Register here.

🏠 Resilient rebuilding: United Policyholders hosts a virtual workshop tonight at 6 p.m. focused on “wildfire-prepared resilient rebuilding.” The event will feature information on construction products and strategies to help Marshall Fire victims rebuild with future wildfire risk in mind. Register here.

🥾 Trail closure: According to Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, the Bear Canyon Trail will be closed 6 a.m.–5 p.m. through Thursday, June 30, as crews complete trail construction in the area. Find alternative trail routes here.

Top Story

‘This job changes you’: Front Range firefighters say they’re struggling with mental health, but support is still lacking

By Sophie Crawford

Walking through the halls of the Louisville Fire Station, it’s hard to miss the red note cards pinned on the wall. They’re adorned with drawings and words of encouragement from local children hoping to put a smile on the faces of passing first responders.

“Seeing these positive affirmations, day after day, makes us feel valued, loved, and like what we’re doing is important and meaningful,” says Shawn Stark, a 53-year-old emergency medical service (EMS) captain with the Louisville Fire Protection District.  

That’s no small detail for emergency response workers like Stark, who dedicate their lives to a profession that can take a big toll on mental wellness. About 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions — including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder — due to their jobs, compared with 20% of the general population, according to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

“We’re not robots,” Stark says. “Even though we might not express or feel that emotion at the time of the emergency, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

In Boulder County, there’s been no shortage of devastating emergencies in recent years — the most recent, the 2021 Marshall Fire, destroyed more than a thousand homes and upended so many lives. “The Marshall Fire was a huge traumatic event for first responders,” Stark says. But “for those people that lost houses, the trauma isn’t even comparable.”

Part of the reason for the higher rates of mental distress in first responders is the second-hand trauma often experienced on the job. And some emergency response workers say the stigma surrounding mental health support, along with a lack of resources, has made matters worse. 

At the Louisville Fire Protection District, one EMS provider compared the second-hand trauma to a cabinet overstuffed with files. As responders continue to file away those feelings, it eventually gets too full and spills out.

Organizations in Colorado are responding by trying to fill the gaps and normalize mental health treatment for people in the profession who carry the heavy burden of supporting those in crisis. But most experts and responders say it’s not enough. 

“I think first responders are on the cusp of having a huge mental health crisis,” says Tyler Avischious, a 37-year-old firefighter and paramedic in Arvada who helps run Revital, a nonprofit focused on first responder mental health. “Mental health in the fire service is 10 years behind where it should be.” 

Learn how your business can become a BRL sponsor.

TOGETHER WITH Caring Transitions®
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Regardless of the situation, the loss of a loved one or the need to relocate someone can be challenging. Caring Transitions® of North Denver, Longmont, and Boulder offers a streamlined support system to help facilitate a less stressful transition, taking care of the details so you can take care of yourself or a loved one. Learn more at Caring Transitions®.

BRL Picks

📚 Tutors wanted: Boulder Public Library is looking for volunteer literacy and language tutors for adult learners in need as part of the BoulderReads initiative. Tutors will be trained and provided with curriculum as they work individually with adults. Learn more about requirements and apply here.

🏳️‍🌈 What’s after Roe?: LGBTQ advocates are concerned the same legal reasoning used in the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade may be used to deny marriage and intimacy rights to same-sex couples. Out Boulder County is hosting a Zoom webinar tonight, June 29, 6–7 p.m., to discuss the potential impacts of the ruling with Scott Skinner-Thompson, a professor of law at CU Boulder and faculty member in the LGBTQ Studies Program. You can submit questions here.

🏊 Troubled waters: Museum of Boulder hosts an opening reception for its historical exhibition focusing on racism and discrimination against Latino families at the Lafeyette Swimming Pool in 1934, tonight from 5:30–7 p.m. The photo-forward show runs through August 14 and draws on historical research to highlight “the brave efforts of Latina Rose Lueras, who fought for civil rights and justice in Lafayette in the 1930s.”

Covid-19 Updates (Boulder County): June 29, 2022

  • 235 daily new cases (7-day avg.) Down 22% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 8 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from a high of 17 last week.
  • 55% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 69% since July 2020.

What We’re Reading: Primary Edition

📖 Denver’s House District 6 Democratic primary race between Epps and March narrows to 34 votes: “The bruising battle primary between Democrats Katie March and Elisabeth Epps for the Capitol Hill-based House District 6 remains too close to call. Epps and March are separated by 34 votes with 12,464 cast as of 11:30 p.m…The fight between the March and Epps camps reflects intra-party divisions between establishment Democrats and the party’s progressive wing.” [Colorado Politics]

📖 Joe O’Dea wins GOP Senate primary, will challenge Bennet: “Joe O’Dea, a wealthy businessman and first-time candidate, won the Republican primary for U.S. Senate…The win gives Republicans new hope they’ll beat Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in November and take back control of the upper chamber. Why it matters: The Democrats’ big bet didn’t pay off. The party meddled in the GOP primary by spending millions to help boost rival Ron Hanks, one of Colorado’s most prominent election conspiracy promoters, because they considered him the weaker candidate to compete in November’s midterm.” [Axios Denver]

📖 Pam Anderson wins Colorado secretary of state’s GOP primary, beating indicted Mesa County Clerk: “Republican Pam Anderson handily defeated two other candidates, including indicted Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters, in Tuesday’s secretary of state primary in a major rebuke of Peters’ 2020 election denialism…The secretary of state contest drew national attention as a test of whether GOP voters would embrace the election conspiracies espoused by Peters, who ran on claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.” [Colorado Sun]

📖 Lauren Boebert easily wins GOP primary in District 3: “Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert handily beat back a primary challenge from state Sen. Don Coram…A grassroots effort tried to make Democrats unaffiliated voters so they could participate in the primary, which some thought was the best shot of ousting the far-right Republican.” [CPR]

ICYMI from BRL

Can Boulder really get to 100% renewable electricity by 2030? Community advisory panel and utility Xcel Energy may have differing ideas about the path forward. The panel formed to help the city navigate its partnership with Xcel after voters rejected municipalization in 2020. One potential point of contention is the use of Renewable Energy Credits to meet Boulder’s goals.

🚨 City of Boulder eyes new non-police alternative for 911 calls. During a monthly town hall with the Boulder Police Department, city officials said they are developing a potential pilot program to send mental health clinicians, paramedics and case managers on 911 calls without police assistance.

🏳️‍🌈 ‘It was the right thing to do, so she did it’: The legacy of former Boulder County Clerk Clela Rorex, who issued the country’s first same-sex marriage license in 1975, leaves lessons for today’s LGBTQ allies. The 78-year-old Longmont resident died on June 19, during the penultimate weekend of Pride Month. Boulder Reporting Lab spoke to Out Boulder County Executive Director Mardi Moore about her bold but unwitting lunge into history.

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Our journalism depends on you.
Have a story tip for us?
Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.