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Meagher County Fire
Do we form Fire District
In the early years county fires were fought by the large ranch crews of the day. Meagher County Fire was formed in the mid-1900s as a Wildfire Fire Department. In 1967 Meagher County was the first county in the state to sign a co-op agreement with Montana State Lands, now known as The Department of Natural Resources. For as far back as this author can find, although Meagher County Fire is only a wildfire department, they have also responded to structure fires in the county.
The co-op agreement with DNRC brought with it eight pieces of firefighting equipment. The first piece of equipment was a trailer with pump, hose and a 300 gallon tank. This trailer was located at the Lucas Ranch out of Ringling and was fully functional until it was replaced in the spring of 1999. The State also assists with firefighter training and supplying resources for fires that expand beyond the capabilities of the county.
In February 1989 the Martinsdale area signed a petition to form a Fire Service Area, which is a structure firefighting department. The residents of this area are charged $50.00 per habitable structure. They also continued to fight the wildland fires in their area for the county fire department.
Ranches continued to modernize and the large ranch crews that once provided firefighters for the county, dwindled down considerably. Until the early 1990’s, county fires were handled by the Sheriff and Deputies of the Meagher County Sheriff’s Office, some Ranches, Checkerboard fire, Martinsdale Fire and a few of the city fire volunteers.
In 1994 Meagher County experienced the Smith Creek Wildland Fire which burned through one of the larger subdivisions in Meagher County. Meagher County responded with the few volunteer firefighters we had, and also with other locals who wanted to help. The Smith Creek Fire was a huge eye opener and identified the lack of equipment and trained firefighters within the county.
In 1995 the City of White Sulphur Springs Volunteer Fire Department purchased a second structure fire truck. Up until this time the City VFD could not respond to fires outside the city. A Mutual Aid Agreement was signed between the City VFD, Martinsdale FSA and the Meagher County Fire Department, agreeing that all Departments would assist each other on fires. In this same year the Grassy Mountain Sub-Division was formed, with a Fire District.
In the late nineties the City VFD and Meagher County Fire began responding with and assisting the Meagher County Ambulance with extrication of accident victims. Presently, due to a shortage of EMT’s, the two fire departments have volunteers that have completed driving requirements in order to assist the ambulance service as drivers for the ambulances.
Where We Are Currently:
•Meagher County Fire received 4.095 mills ($31,482) plus donations and a $7,000 grant, this budget for fighting Wildland Fires
•Meagher County has five firefighting organizations, not counting federal fire agencies
•Meagher County Fire is operating outside its scope when it responds to structure fires, extrication, or driving ambulances
•County volunteers are not covered when they are not on a Wildland fire
•Volunteers that have served for 20 years are not eligible for retirement from Insurance Companies because the scope of the department does include structure fires
•Provide the best wild land and structure fire protection possible to Meagher County residents
•Cover volunteer fire fighters for all fires they respond to
•Enable volunteers to be eligible for retirement offered from Insurance Companies
•Consolidate firefighting organizations to be more cost effective and efficient
There are a few options the county has. Each option has some positives and negatives. After much consideration Option 1 appears to be the best solution to provide the best fire protection possible that is cost effective and efficient. Currently petitions are being circulated to annex the majority of the county into a fire district. If land owners are not in favor of the annexation the other options will be taken under consideration.
Option 1: Form County Wide Fire District
•Requires owners of 40% or more of real property and 40% or more of the taxable value of property to sign a petition in support of annexation to form the fire district
•Submit the petition to the County Commissioners and hold a public hearing
•Would increase taxes slightly to provide structure protection (supplies, gear and equipment)
•Allows possibility of Grassy Mountain Fire District to consolidate into district, Martinsdale FSA to annex into district, and the City of WSS to consolidate into district. All working together in one direction for the residents of Meagher County
•Fire District is all risk, which means Wildland Fires, Structure Fires, EMS and Haz Mat. Volunteers would be working within their scope
•All volunteers would be covered by work compensation
•Volunteers would be able to receive retirement
Option 2: Form Fire Service Area
•County Commissioners resolve to adjust the boundaries of Martinsdale Fire Service Area to include the county
•A Public hearing held, and protests accepted and heard
•Requires additional taxes with the increase of responsibility
•Could never consolidate with the City of WSS Fire
•Could be an all risk Fire Department
•All volunteers would be covered by workers compensation
•Volunteers would be able to receive retirement
Option 3: Leave As Is – Do NOT Respond to Structure Fires in the County
•Meagher County Fire works within its scope, only responds to wild land fires
•Residence home owners insurance could be increased with no structure protection available
•All volunteers covered by workers compensation
•Budget remains the same
•Other fire entities continue to operate separately