Posted: Jul 18, 2012 4:14 PM by Irina Cates - KPAX News
Updated: Jul 19, 2012 8:46 AM
MISSOULA- The Missoula Rural Fire District is short 19 firefighters, and as result, most of its stations are often run by only one person.
"If we're lucky, on a good day, [we'll have] two career firefighters in a station," said Ron Lubke, Missoula Rural Fire Captain.
District engineer Mike Bowman said it's stressful to answer an emergency call alone. Firefighters have a lot to do in very little time, but responding solo means a firefighter not only needs to do everything quickly, he or she has to be able to multitask.
"[I have to] know where I'm going without additional help in the engine. We're running radios, we're thinking about what we need to do when we arrive on the scene," Bowman said.
The department has five fire stations. Six more firefighters are on the way, thanks to grants, but Lubke said the magic number is 19.
"Nineteen would guarantee that we would never be below two firefighters, and would probably provide three at several of the stations a good majority of the time. Unfortunately, though, it's a big bill to foot for the taxpayers," Lubke said.
Insurance Services Organization rates the department's insurance partly based on the amount of staff. So not having enough firefighters not only affects the community in an emergency, it could also mean higher insurance rates.
"The lower numbers you have there it could translate into higher insurance premiums for folks that are paying fire insurance," said Lubke.
The six firefighters hired with grant money will start in late fall and the money will pay for the salaries of the firefighters for two years. After that, the fire department might ask to community for help to keep them employed.