Big Sky Fire Department sees record-breaking winter
125 incidents per month “a scramble”
In late 2015, the Big Sky Fire Department adopted an Emergency Services Master Plan—a 141-page guide meant to help the department improve safety and the work of responders. In the plan, it was estimated that by the end of 2020, the BSFD would see upwards of 762 calls per year.
Well, it’s 2018, and according to BSFD Chief Bill Farhat, the department has already seen 782 calls this fiscal year (July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018).
“So, we’re already above 2020 estimated numbers, and we still have May and June,” Chief Farhat said as he looked over the most current call stats.
Chief Farhat added, given the busy winter Big Sky Resort had, he’s not surprised the numbers are so high.
“As a growing community, this isn’t unexpected, but these jumps are exponential,” said Farhat. “This January, February and March are all record-breaking months in terms of calls, and substantially so.”
The jump in calls was discussed at the recent BSFD Board of Directors meeting where, during Farhat’s regular report, it was noted that March 2018 incidents were 23.5 percent more than the previous year, which was 32.5 percent more than the year before that.
“These are numbers we just can’t predict,” Farhat said. “It’s influenced by snow quality, but we have to provide services no matter what.”
In addition, there were 45 overlapping incidents in March—a third of all calls—compared to only 16 in 2017.
“It’s a scramble,” said the chief.
Plans are underway to bring more staff and equipment to the BSFD. Voters approved a $1.5 million mill levy in November 2017 and those funds will start appearing in the department’s coffers in November of this year.
That funding will pay for remodeling costs at the Meadow station, which Farhat noted was never designed for what it’s being used for now. In fact, it’s a space that’s currently too small for some of the department’s fire trucks.
Mill funds also will go to the Mountain station to add sleeping quarters, which will allow crews to be staffed there 24-7. In addition, the money will cover the salaries of nine additional staff—a fire marshal, a deputy fire marshal, along with fire fighters and EMT crews who will staff the Mountain station.
Farhat said eventually a new fire station will need to be built in Big Sky—maybe in 15 years or so—but in the meantime remodeling is the way to go.
“The farther I put off building a new station, the better I am doing,” he said. “It’s a better use of taxpayer dollars.”
A new engine is also in the works for the BSFD—a Pierce custom velocity chassis pumper, made in Wisconsin. The new truck, equipped with four-wheel drive and a powerful engine ready for steep roads, will push the department’s 21-year-old engine #1241 into reserve, giving the department a total of three fire engines.
The $715,000 engine, funded by Big Sky Resort Area District tax dollars, should be ready in June.
Another project in the works for the BSFD is a practice facility. The Big Sky Water and Sewer District approved the placement of a training center—made with three shipping containers—in the parking area near the Big Sky Search and Rescue building. It was approved on the condition that the facility blends into the environment as well as possible.
The BSFD Board of Directors looked at several examples of “aesthetically pleasing” practice facilities designed by ELS Architects, which came in shades of brown and incorporated roofs. They’ll present some options to the BSW&SD Board of directors at its next meeting, and go from there.
Farhat said he’d hoped to have the practice facility up and running by now, but he respects the process.
“We’ve been working through different ideas, trying to come up with the best design,” he said. “We’re in no rush and will take all the time necessary to make it work.”
The BSFD Board of Directors will meet again on May 23 at 8:30 a.m. at the BSW&SD meeting room. The public is welcome to attend.