Montana Public Radio

Rural Fire Departments Raise Funds To Buy Communications Equipment

Aug 19, 2019

Rural volunteer firefighters were some of the first crews on the scene when the North Hills Fire broke out near Helena in late July, and threatened hundreds of homes. Monday, some of those firefighters were raising money in Helena.

John Naylor, Fire Chief of the York Volunteer Fire Department, says when the North Hills and other fires started near his small community, every fire department in the county sent crews and equipment to help.

Naylor says small rural departments depend on that kind of assistance. And many of those departments are volunteers.

"You know, there’s a limited population, so you have a limited tax base. We have all the same requirements that the large departments do, but we just don’t have the revenue to do that. So a lot of them rely on fundraising, and stuff like that."

Standing next to a food truck in a Safeway parking lot in Helena where firefighters are selling burgers and hotdogs for $5, Naylor is helping raise money for the Lewis and Clark Rural Fire Council.

The council organizes more than a dozen small fire departments for mutual aid.

Jonathan Cunningham, captain of the nine-person Canyon Creek Volunteer Fire Department, sat in the shade near the food truck, a two-way radio on the table next to him. Cunningham says that when the Horsefly fire erupted in his district, at least five other neighboring districts, along with state and federal agencies, came to help Canyon Creek volunteers.

"It has been a pretty interesting year so far. In our area we still do have the Horsefly Fire that is active.”

Members of rural fire council says they’ll use money from the fundraiser Monday to help buy radios, repeaters, and other communication equipment that helps departments in the area stay in touch during an emergency.

Event organiser Eric Dowell says around $17,000 to support the rural fire council has come-in over recent weeks. Most of that from a donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana.

Some of the money from the federal government's emergency declaration on the North Hills Fire, announced in July, will pay volunteers for their work on it. But that money hasn’t come in yet, and won’t until all the financial books on the fire are closed.

Get the latest wildfire, fire management and air quality news for Western Montana and the Northern Rockies, on your radio during our morning and evening newscasts, via podcast, or in your inbox each day.