HELENA – Helena Fire Department leaders say they’re already planning to hire new firefighters, after city voters approved a new tax levy to pay for increased staffing.
69 percent of voters in Tuesday’s primary election backed the levy proposal. It will raise an additional $900,000 a year for the department.
$600,000 will go toward hiring six new firefighters, allowing HFD to increase the number of responders on duty at any given time from seven to nine.
Chief Mark Emert said the department is already looking at some potential candidates who are going through the summer testing program for the Montana Firefighter Testing Consortium. HFD and the other departments in the consortium only hire applicants who pass those physical and written tests.
Emert said he hopes to have new members in Helena and ready to start training by the fall. The money from the levy will not begin coming in until later this year, but Emert said they are looking for ways to find funding for the additional firefighters as soon as possible.
“I believe the commissioners and the mayor’s intent is to move this thing right along,” he said.
Emert said the department currently has enough staffing to handle a single fire or two or three medical calls. If any more calls come in, he said they have to free up resources or call in off-duty employees. He said adding the new responders will help them handle those cases.
City leaders said there were 90 times last year when HFD’s response was delayed because they didn’t have enough staff available.
The remaining $300,000 from the levy will be set aside to pay for capital purchases, including fire apparatus and equipment. Leaders said that would not only provide dedicated funding for HFD, but also increase the general fund money available for the Helena Police Department and Helena Parks and Recreation to make needed purchases.
Emert thanked Helena residents for their vote of confidence in the fire department.
“You’ve got a really good group of firefighters here that have gone out and are so excited about serving this community and doing a good job for these folks,” he said. “That reassurance and support that the citizenry and the community showed to them last night motivated them and excited them beyond belief. It’s a wonderful time.”