Thursday, September 28, 2023

Fisher River Valley Fire Rescue revises assessment request

The Western News | September 19, 2023 7:00 AM

Fisher River Valley Fire Rescue is seeking an increase in its assessment from property owners in the district to keep up with increasing costs.

The Lincoln County Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the matter at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 28, at the fire station at 70 West Camp Road in Happy's Inn. The hearing will allow the public to comment for or against the fee schedule amendment.

Fire Chief Kirk Kraft was at the county commissioners meeting on July 26 to present the all-volunteer department’s plan for raising money.

Kraft said the department currently receives $140 per structure, a total of $53,620. The department was initially seeking to increase the amount to $317 annually, but it has revised its request to lesser amounts.

Here is what is being proposed for various properties in the fire district area:

Class 1 residential properties from $140 to $200 a year;

Class 2 commercial, standard from $280 to $340 a year;

Class 3 commercial selling fuel from $350 to $410 a year;

Class MOB (structural improvements) from $140 to $200 a year.

“We’ve survived off the $140 assessment since it was approved in 2008, but costs continue to go up,” Kraft said. “We’ve discussed increasing our fees to reduce our reliance from money we take in for wildland fire work and we don’t receive any money from the county.”

District 1 Commissioner Brent Teske was concerned with the initial request for an assessment increase, but he told Fisher River Valley Fire Service Area Chairman Stu Crismore that he felt the reduced amount was more appropriate.

The department contracts with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for fighting wild fires in the district. They also receive money from ambulance calls, but Kraft said the goal is to have a more reliable source of revenue to help pay for turnout gear, vests, hoses and other items.

“Contracting with DNRC for wildland fires accounts for about 50% of our budget, but there’s no guarantee of it,” Kraft said. “We just want the assessment fees to cover our operation expenses.”

The department was formed in 1986 following the 1984 Houghton Creek Fire, which scorched 12,000 acres and destroyed several structures in the area.

Kraft also cited the growth in the area that includes four new subdivisions and a possible RV park.

The department, which responds to between 30 and 60 calls per year, became extremely busy when the Gravel Pit Fire started on Aug. 1.

Kraft shared a rundown on social media of what the department did when someone asked a question about what the department did in response to the blaze that grew to more than 300 acres.

“Two Fisher River Valley wildland engines and two water tenders immediately responded with full crews. The first engine was on the scene in 12 minutes. The department immediately ordered helicopters, retardant aircraft and additional engines,” Kraft wrote in the post.

“Fisher River Valley firefighters started the initial attack and one engine responded up the mountain in an attempt to find a way to cut off the fire. With 20 residences threatened by the fire, Fisher 
River Valley engines teamed up with Marion and Libby FD engines to protect the structures that were most threatened. Firefighters went door to door and firefighters patrolled the highway and caught any hot spots so the fire wouldn’t cross the highway.

“Fisher River Valley firefighters provided structure protection 24 hours a day for seven days until the fire was deemed not to be a threat.”