GREAT FALLS — Over the past several weeks, Montana has experienced numerous wildfires across different areas of the state. Along with that, the smoke has taken a toll on air quality, especially in parts of North Central Montana. MTN talked with first responders to get their take as wildfire season continues.
Great Falls Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Robert Shupe said, “Currently, we only have one active fire burning in Cascade County, which is the Deep Creek Fire, which is in the southern end of Cascade County. Currently, it is about 40 acres, and it is 70 percent contained, but it is still putting some smoke into the air, but we do have quite a few fires burning in southern and actually northwestern Montana, which are contributing to the smoke conditions that we are seeing here locally."
Great Falls Fire Rescue say they gauge the smoke conditions with an air-quality index with a numerical value of 0 to 500. Anything above 100 can potentially lead to health problems.
"As a reference yesterday in Great Falls, we were at 66, and in comparison, Helena was at 102," Shupe noted. "So anything over 100 can cause adverse health conditions for certain demographics of people. Those with respiratory problems or health conditions or extreme allergies, those types of things and situations, and how you can avoid that is keep your windows closed, and your cars and homes, and also just stay out of the smoke."
Shupe added that Great Falls Fire Rescue has also done some collaborative work with rural fire departments in North Central Montana.
Shupe said, "this year, we've conducted the first rural fire academy where Great Falls fire rescue along with all of our surrounding mutual aid partners, our volunteer fire departments, got together for a weekend of training to where we basically learn how to operate together, how to communicate, establish water shuttles and water supplies in the event that we're operating in an area where we don't have a hydrant or a water system to pull from for our firefighting efforts."
Great Falls Emergency Services noted that they tend to see increases of respiratory issues.
Great Falls Emergency Services General Manager Justin Grohs noted, "When the air quality gets degraded, whether it's from wildland fires, here, or from elsewhere, we do tend to see increases in respiratory issues, in particular, those with pre-existing conditions such as COPD, emphysema, and bronchiolitis, asthmatics. They already have that disease process and the smoke in the air can certainly make that worse and create a situation where they have additional issues with that."
Grohs added, "We're certainly aware of the medical implications, and respiratory issues are one of our more common issues to respond to, so we tend to carry quite a lot of oxygen as well as the various medications used for asthma, COPD, and other respiratory issues, so we're very well stocked up on those things as well as CPAP technology to support people who might have respiratory issues."
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