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Big Sky population, visitor boom stretch fire department

A firefighter with the Big Sky Fire Department.png

In just this last winter season alone, the number of calls that Big Sky Fire responded to went up by 35 percent, according to Big Sky Fire Chief William Farhat.

The department is using resort tax funding to buy new equipment and gear, but he says it still isn't enough to keep up with the growth.

Farhat says in his last five years in Big Sky he's seen the mountain community grow with both residents and visitors alike.

"We are a remote mountain community, so it's difficult for us to call on our neighbors and ask for assistance, so in our world we have to do everything ourselves, for the most part,” said Farhat.

"Our year-to-date activity is 22.5 percent higher, which is a huge jump for us to address," he added.

His 21-person team covers over 200 square miles in the vicinity of Big Sky, responding to a lot of emergency response cases.

He said almost half of the time they have two and three calls going on at the same time, which is where it hurts the most.

"When you have three calls going on at once, one of them is going to be on hold until you can clear the other unit," he said.

In 2018, visitors to Big Sky contributed over $8 million in resort taxes, and the Big Sky Resort Tax Board this week awarded the fire department $952,000.

Farhat says that money will help with refurbishing an ambulance and with operational costs. He also says it helps offset the impact of tourism in the community.

"Sixty percent of what the fire department does is for people who do not live here, so it's difficult to ask people to pay property taxes to fund operations," he said.

Farhat says the plan is also to expand the fire team to 28 next year, and plans are in the works to remodel both stations.

As Big Sky keeps growing and the calls continue to come in, Farhat says it’ll continue to be a strain until they get enough resources.

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