Making a Difference: More than just fighting fires


POLSON, Mont. - With wildfires stretching across the state this time of year NBC Montana is taking a special moment to recognize the important work Montana firefighters do.

From contractors to ranchers to hairstylists, the Polson Rural Fire District volunteer firefighters come from different backgrounds, but they come together in a small-town way.

"Most all the people here would tell you that this is their second family," said Fire Chief Paul Laisy.

Captain Drew Hoel has been with the district for nine years. Today he fights fires alongside his nephew and three of his business partners.

"I've always wanted to serve our community, and this was the best way for me to do it," said Hoel.

The district's 33 volunteer firefighters cover nearly 200 square miles and about 4,000 people.

"You're helping people when they're at their worst -- whether they've been in a car accident or house fire -- they're calling for help. We show up. We're trained and we're able to help those people that are in need," said Hoel.

Montana only requires 30 hours of training per firefighter per year. However, the Polson crew is ready for anything with additional training.

"Each time the pager goes off you really don't know what you're going to be getting into. That takes some real preparation in the form of training," said Laisy.

Firefighters are trained to fight structure fires and wildland fires and perform rescues in all kinds of conditions including ice, water and those requiring a rope.

"If you have firefighters that are trained well they'll perform well. If you have firefighters that are safe they'll be safe," said Laisy.

The crew responds to around 230 calls a year, but Hoel estimates that number has increased by almost 20 percent because of this year's dry conditions and tourism impact.

The team is not getting paid but is gaining something much more valuable.

"If one of us is hurt we all jump in to help that person, and we're always there. Nobody gets left behind," said volunteer firefighter Matt Dougherty.

Click here if you're interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter.

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