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Missoula Rural Fire District copes with expanding population, calls for service

Posted at 2:10 PM, Apr 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-23 18:17:44-04

MISSOULA – The Missoula Rural Fire District covers 100 square miles, including expanding subdivisions, homes reaching into the surrounding drainages — and even miles up canyons like Lolo Creek.

MRFD leaders are confident a new mill levy proposal going before voters will help them cope with the growth and provide the kinds of fire and medical service residents are looking for. One issue the firefighters deals with is when ambulances from the Missoula area have to navigate increasingly busy traffic.

“Geographically speaking the potential for delayed response from the ambulance coming out to the areas — like Bonner, Lolo and up a lot of the drainages like Grant Creek, Pattee Canyon, the Rattlesnake, Highway 12, the Highway 200 Corridor — a lot of those areas you’re going to have a delayed response,” MRFD Fire Cheif Chris Newman noted. “Nothing else the ambulance can do about that. But that’s why our stations are located where they are.”

“If we can get to a patient quickly, and provide those advanced medical skills before the ambulance gets there, it’s just going to start that continuum of care for the patient getting into the ambulance and ending up in the hospital,” MRFD firefighter and EMT Robb Hollenbeck noted.

While the focus of the mill levy proposal on the May 7 ballot is to staff up all five MRFD stations to 24/7 coverage — especially for that advanced life support — the District is also seeing more pressure from wildland fires in recent years.

Driven by hot, dry summers, the Missoula Rural Fire District is seeing more calls as the first responders for everything from grass fires to larger fires in a support role. That’s also increasing the need for fully-staffed, fully trained stations.

“The increase in personnel will definitely allow us — not only from the medical side of things but also from the fireside, whether it be wildland fires or structure fires,” Newman said.

“The more folks that we can get on scene in the initial minutes of that emergency, the higher success rate we’re going to have, whether it be for extinguishing the fire and also from the rescue standpoint of rescuing occupants that may be trapped,” he added.

“The more well-trained hands that we have the better off we are to treat that patient and provide the best care that we possibly can,” Hollenbeck told MTN News.

The ballots for the Missoula Rural Fire District levy were mailed late last week and are due back to the county by May 7. If approved, it would cost just under $40 per year for a $100,000 home or just under $80 per year on a home valued at $200,000.

Click here to learn more about the mill levy request.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News