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James "Jim" Spell

1949 - 2024

Jim Spell 1949 - 2024

Retired Vail Fire Captain James "Jim" Spell died April 5, 2024 at his home in Eagle with his wife and son by his side. 

Jim (James G Spell) was born in Albert Lea, Minnesota on August 8th 1949 to George and Helen Spell. Along with his younger sister Stacy, they lived throughout the country following George’s military service and corporate work.

After High School Jim attended Grinnell College in Grinnell Iowa where he earned a Bachelor’s in Communications. He went on to work in television producing programing in Indianapolis and at CBS in New Your City, he was a touring musician as the drummer with the Wright Brothers Band (then known as the Wright Brothers Overland Stage Company) and played with a few well-known artists on flute, guitar and drums.  He later made his way to Denver and set out for the mountains in his Volkswagen with not much more than his drum set and a black and white TV which as the story goes, he traded for rent. 

Jim worked many local jobs including dog catcher, singing waiter, video production coordinator for Studio of the Rockies in Lionshead and could be found playing music from Cyrano’s to the Red Lion.  By the 1976 gondola accident he had joined the Vail Fire Protection District as a volunteer. 

After 2 years in the volunteer ranks, Jim spent 33 years as a career firefighter with Vail Fire & Emergency Services, the last 20 years as a captain.  He was one of the pioneering professionals of the department and assisted in the creation of the first student/resident fire science program west of the continental divide, helped formed the first countywide hazmat response unit, was on the original Colorado Governor’s Safety Committee and created a first responder scholarship for Colorado Mountain College while on the board of Starting Hearts. He earned an associate's degree in fire science from Colorado Mountain Collage while helping create the program out of "The A-Frame" by the river.

After retirement from the fire service he consulted as a writer, medic, and safety consultant and with various government and private organizations.   Jim provided articles for Lexipol Publishing as a featured columnist where he received six IAFF media awards.

His work can be seen on various websites including FireRescue1,, FireRecruit and the FireRescue1 Academy.

Jim’s wealth of knowledge from the fire service is collected in his two books, BOOT BASICS: A Firefighter’s Guide to the Service®, published in 2019, and Essays for Firefighters: Path to Officership® published in 2023, as well as his podcast The Fair Reach Forum.

Jim was a man of many hobbies including playing guitar, drums, flyfishing, carpentry and most of all model aviation.  He could frequently be found flying at WIA (Wolcott International Airport) or at his home.

Jim and his family would like to thank everyone at Vail Health, Shaw Cancer Center, Hospice of the Valley and Shaw at Home for the incredible work they do.  Jim and his family will be forever grateful for the care they provided.

Jim was preceded in death by his parents George and Helen Spell who long time locals may remember from their many summers spent in Vail. 

Jim is survived by his wife of almost 40 years Pam Spell; his son, Clinton “CJ” Spell; His sister Stacy Spell Macpherson; brother in laws Thom Macpherson, Tom Hardy, Mike Hardy, and Richard McAlpin;  Sister-in-laws Sheryl Hardy, Barb Hardy; Nephew Kristopher Hardy; Niece-in-law Malissa; Grandnephew Aiden and many more cousins, extended family and friends.

Jim will forever rest where he can watch over the people who love him, and the valley he called home, hopefully with some trout nearby. 

 “So when a man shakes your hand after a call, accept his gratitude with satisfaction and pride on behalf of all firefighters present and past. When a child comes into the firehouse staring wide-eyed in awe and reverence, don’t greet her with your problems of the day. Elevate yourself to her level and reflect the gift that is our profession. Share with them the secret that only firefighters carry — there are no heroes, only heroic acts. Describe a collective courage specified at great cost and given to all of us without condition.”

           Jim Spell


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