Governor honors Montana fire departments for work in California
Gov. Steve Bullock is honoring 13 Montana fire departments with a governor’s citation after several sent crews to help fight wildfires in December.
For stations like Missoula’s, the efforts brought in more than a good feeling, they also brought in money.
The governor’s office tells us the departments honored are:
- Big Sky
- Red Lodge
- Central Valley
- Park County
- Fisher River Valley
- Bull Lake
Dozens of wildfires ripped across California in December, forcing widespread evacuations and destroying over one thousand properties. California officials called on Montana and other nearby states for help.
Missoula Fire Chief Jason Diehl said the initial request was for 50 strike teams from Montana and six other states. “It was a pretty tall order,” he added.
A strike team is made up of five fire engines with crews to man them. Missoula teamed up with Big Sky, Columbus and Missoula Rural Fire to build a full team.
"It was a good thing to do, and especially when there's snow on the ground in Missoula, and you know there's really no risk of wildfire locally here in the state, we can afford to send as many resources as we can to help them out," said Diehl.
Diehl said he’s usually very cautious about sending crews to California because the fuels, fire behavior and weather are so much different than in Montana. However, he said California’s situation was so dire in December that he went down the list to find out who was available and interested in going and whether there was enough interest to build a team.
The crews went to California on two-week assignments, and some were gone over the holidays, but one benefit to going was to gain experience.
The response came at no cost to Missoula citizens and actually brought in revenue for the city.
"The requesting agency -- in this case, the state of California -- covers all the wages for our firefighters and then, on top of that, they pay our contracted rate for the equipment that we sent," said Diehl.
He says in the California assignment alone they brought in $100,000. Since last July the wildland contracting brought in $1.1 million. Missoula Fire says, after expenses, they ended up with an extra $300,000 to put back into the city’s general fund.
The California assignment brought a surprise after a Missoula firefighter left a homeowner a note apologizing for breaking his doorknob.
“The (homeowner) tracked (the firefighter) down and started a conversation -- what can I? do for you guys? And it was suggested -- how about you make a donation to their benevolent fund,” explained Diehl.
That donation was for $5,000.
The firefighters’ benevolent fund goes toward helping local charities and area children.