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Polson firefighters compare favorably with other local departments

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POLSON — Craig Jeppeson, an instructor from the Montana Fire School, came to the Polson Rural Fire District Trustees monthly meeting on Jan. 13 at 7 p.m. at the request of Fire Chief John Fairchild. Jeppeson had spent a significant amount of time compiling a comparison of five area fire departments, including Polson. And Polson came out looking good.

Out of the 300 training hours available to Polson and Polson Rural firefighters each year, the firefighters (40 on the roster and 25 active) averaged 261 hours of training. (To qualify for a volunteer firefighter pension, a firefighter has to have 30 hours of training per year.) 

“These are big numbers,” Jeppeson said. “You can commend your firefighters.”   

Categories Jeppeson compared were: yearly number of runs, number of firefighters and active firefighters, training hours provided and attended, population of the area covered, whether or not fire departments covered city or rural or a combination, fire fighter retention, average time to get a truck on the road, average number of volunteers responding, and average number of volunteers responding to a confirmed emergency.

Polson gets a volunteer engine en route to a call in an average of six minutes. The average number of firefighters responding to confirmed emergencies is 90 percent. 

“Does it paint a picture?” Jeppeson asked. “I work with firefighters, that’s my forte. I don’t work with boards, but you’ve got a good deal… You’ve got volunteer firefighters that care.”

“I think you guys know I enjoy the heck out of working with your department,” Jeppeson continued. 

Jeppeson added that he “thinks an awful lot of this group.”

After Jeppeson’s presentation, Lieutenant Chris McGuinness presented a comparison of utilization configurations for the new station. 

McGuinness’ premise was that the public pays for, expects, and deserves response. The public does not pay for fire trucks, personnel, training, or stations. They pay for response. 

Response is broken down into the time it takes, the resources made available, the personnel and expertise McGuinness said. According to the simulation, roughly 48 percent of fire trucks leaving the stations would be delayed and the average delay per truck would be 54 seconds if:

1. The stations were both run as all-hazards stations.

2. The responders were split by geography (the bridge).

The fairgrounds station is currently set up to be used for wildland fires. 

During the staff report, Fire Chief John Fairchild said there were 17 runs in December to bring the 2009 total up to 329 runs. 

Fairchild also mentioned that new volunteer firefighter, Will Woodger, was at the meeting, and Fairchild had his application.

Fairchild asked board members and firefighters to thank Joe at Ace Hardware, the folks at True Value, Dave Ottun at Western Building Center and Steve Stanley, Lake County Office of Emergency Management, for their contributions to the fire department. The board voted to send letters of appreciation to these community members and businesses.

To get some of the issues plaguing the rural and city fire departments out in the open, the first stakeholders meeting will be held on Jan. 28 at Polson City Hall at 7 p.m. Polson City Manager Todd Crossett will facilitate the meeting. Attending the meeting will be Polson City/Rural Fire Chief John Fairchild, Polson Rural Fire District Chair Alison Meslin, Lake County Commissioner Bill Barron, Polson City Attorney James Raymond, Polson Rural Fire District Trustees Jack Clapp and Fred Nelson, Polson City Commissioner Judy Preston, Polson City/Rural firefighters Martin Glass, Chris McGuinness, Drew Hoel and area resident Carlisa Landon.

In other business, Trustees Paul Laisey, Jim Manley and Alison Meslin are still working on a FEMA grant, which needs to be submitted by Friday, Jan. 15. 

They are asking for $236,000 spread over four years for recruitment, training and retention. Grant winners will be notified in about a year.

Meslin brought up a Plum Creek grant for $10,000. The grants are awarded quarterly, and Meslin would like to apply and use the money, if the grant is received, to buy turnout gear. The board voted to allow Meslin to apply for the grant. 

The board also passed a motion to renew the workmen’s compensation insurance with Bishop Insurance. Trustees also discussed recruitment and an open house to show off the new station. An open house was tentatively scheduled for Feb. 20, but the date will need to be changed since ice rescue training is set for that day.

The next Polson Rural fire District Trustees meet is scheduled for Feb. 10.

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