Montana becomes 49th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters

Montana Governor to sign legislation today

With the passage of Senate Bill 160 Montana becomes the 48th state with some form of presumptive care for firefighters.

The Firefighters Protection Act lists 12 presumptive diseases for which it would be easier for a firefighter to file a workers’ compensation claim if they served a certain number of years:

  • Bladder cancer, 12 years
  • Brain cancer, 10 years
  • Breast cancer, 5 years
  • Myocardial infarction, 10 years
  • colorectal cancer, 10 years
  • Esophageal cancer, 10 years
  • Kidney cancer, 15 years
  • Leukemia, 5 years
  • Mesothelioma or asbestosis, 10 years
  • Multiple myeloma, 15 years
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 15 years
  • Lung cancer, 4 years

The bill applies to volunteers and local fire departments in Montana, but not to federal firefighters. It is unclear if it affects those employed by the state government.

The federal government has not established a presumptive disease program for their 15,000 wildland firefighters.

At a bill signing ceremony Thursday afternoon Governor Bullock will issue a proclamation ordering flags to be displayed at half-staff in honor of all Montana firefighters who have lost their lives from a job-related illness in the line of duty.

Governor Proclamation Montana firefighters


In a related story from April 12, “British Columbia may expand firefighter occupational disease coverage to wildland firefighters”

Part of Lame Deer, Montana evacuated as wildfire burns into the town

The west side of Lame Deer, Montana was evacuated Sunday as a wildfire burned into the town. Residents said it originated from a structure fire that spread into nearby vegetation, and pushed by strong winds it spread quickly.  Rosebud County Sheriff Allen Fulton estimated the fire grew to approximately 1,700 acres before firefighters contained it. There were no reports of any additional structures burning.

The fire jumped across Highway 212 but firefighters were able to stop it at Highway 39, the main road that runs north and south through the town.

Sunday afternoon a weather station on Badger Peak east of Lame Deer recorded a high of 63 degrees, 23 percent relative humidity, and winds out of the west and southwest at 10 to 22 mph with gusts up to 42 mph.

Several residents posted videos and photos on social media.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

29 have graduated recently from the Trapper Creek Job Corps firefighter program

The Ravalli Republic has an uplifting story about the recent graduates of the firefighter training program at the Trapper Creek Job Corps center south of Darby, Montana. The nine individuals that were recognized on December 10 are in addition to the 20 that previously graduated and left the facility. The graduates were given coats as a symbol of their achievements.

Below is an excerpt from the article:


…This past summer they learned that struggle can lead to something good. They learned that what they thought were their limits weren’t really where it stops at all. They discovered that they had much more buried deep inside of themselves than they ever imagined.

“You learned to embrace the suck,” said Trapper Creek’s Fire Training Specialist Danny Atkinson. “You found that struggle can become the goal. When it sucks the most, life is good. You discovered that you are a lot damn tougher than you ever thought you were.”

As a team that started with 44 members, they put in 71,774 hours on 277 assignments that took them to 11 states as far away as Wisconsin. Along the way, they and others at Trapper Creek Job Corps earned $1.2 million in gross pay. There is only one other Job Corps Center that’s broken the $1 million mark before. Trapper Creek has done that two years in a row.

“Some of our students have between $5,000 and $20,000 in their bank accounts,” said Justin Abbey, Trapper Creek’s Fire Management Officer. “That’s the money that they’ll be able to tap into to relocate, buy a car and pay for that first and last month’s rent. It helps set them up for success…”

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Paula.
Typos or errors, report them HERE.

The Northern Rockies Fire Cache – A firefighting megastore

Above: Northern Rockies Fire Cache at Missoula. USFS photo.

(Originally published at 5:20 p.m. MDT August 29, 2018)

From adapters for everything imaginable to wrenches in all sizes – the Northern Rockies Fire Cache is a wildland firefighting megastore. When firefighters need equipment, tables, clothing, foot powder, sleeping bags, radios, or even medical supplies they call on the Cache to meet their needs.

Located in Missoula, Montana, the Northern Rockies Cache serves a wide range of federal, state, local and tribal government agencies within the Northern Rockies Geographical Area, an area of roughly 235,654 square miles.

The Northern Rockies Cache is capable of immediately supplying up to 5,000 firefighters and more than 30 major wildland fires. Support is sustained with a steady flow of replacement supplies from vendors and other Caches.

The Cache is moving toward becoming a minimal waste facility. Every piece of equipment returned to the Cache from a fire is assessed to see if it can be fixed, repaired, or refurbished. If it can, it is cleaned and repaired in-house saving considerable taxpayer dollars. If the equipment is beyond repair it gets recycled if possible. Last year alone the Cache recycled over 22,000 pounds of steel and almost 11,000 pounds of batteries.

Following the 2017 wildland fire season, the Cache inspected, laundered, and repaired over 40,000 pieces of Nomex clothing and over 9,000 sleeping bags. Working through this amount of laundry involves a lot of people – clothes and sleeping bags are inspected when they return from the fireline, sent to local businesses to be laundered, separated by size and condition, and those items needing a little TLC are set aside to be worked on during the winter months. Smokejumpers, known for their elite firefighting skills are also known for their sewing abilities and are called on during the winter to repair Nomex clothing so it can be used again the next season.

How does it work? When a fire burns for a number of days it quickly surpasses the local unit’s ability to provide needed supplies and provisions. Fire managers will place orders for the things they need to the Cache which quickly assembles and ships the supplies. When the fire no longer needs the supplies they return them to the Cache to be cleaned, refurbished and restocked. This includes the miles of hose that has to be pressure tested, cleaned to remove any aquatic hitchhikers (aquatic invasive species), dried, and finally rolled and stacked. Following the 2017 fire season over 1,200 miles of hose (enough hose to reach from Missoula to Long Beach, CA) went through this process.

fire cache at the National Interagency Fire Center
Portable pumps in the fire cache at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, ID. BLM photo.

A few Cache figures from the 2017 fire season: 1,300 pumps cleaned and refurbished (the last pump was put back on the shelf ready for the 2018 fire season in June – a year after the 2017 fire season began); almost 400 chainsaws, over 8,200 fire tools, almost 3 million pairs of earplugs, almost 300 pounds of foot powder, over 1.2 million AA batteries; and 64,420 MREs (meals ready to eat) which is enough to feed one person, three meals a day for 58.8 years.

Although its primary focus is to support fire suppression activities in northern Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota (referred to as the Northern Rockies Geographical Area), the Northern Rockies Cache may also lend support to any type of emergency incident in every part of the country. Beginning in the late 1990s, this helping hand and support was extended to include Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

This Cache’s staffing operation consists of 15 people year round and up to 50 during the summer. This highly skilled workforce has met the needs of firefighters across the nation for the last 3 years with no serious accidents.

Howe Ridge Fire causes more evacuations in Glacier National Park

Above: CL-215 water scooping air tankers working the Howe Ridge Fire August 16, 2018. InciWeb photo.

During the last four days the Howe Ridge Fire has spread almost three miles toward the southwest, and also moved south along the shore of Lake McDonald where it is 7 miles north of West Glacier, Montana. On the north end it is less than half a mile west of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

There are 134 personnel are assigned to the 7,835-acre blaze. That is a small number considering its size and the fact that the fire is causing evacuations, has destroyed 27 structures, and is threatening numerous others. Fire officials have not been able to acquire the number of firefighting resources that they need. This is due to reductions in the budgets of the federal land management agencies and competition from the other 55 large wildfires burning across the western states, many of which are also making do with inadequate staffing on their fires.

map Howe Ridge Fire
The red lines represent the perimeter of the Howe Ridge Fire at 12:30 a.m. MDT August 19. The white line was the perimeter on August 15. Click to enlarge.

Below is a video posted to YouTube August 16 by Justin Bilton. He described it like this:

We were camped 2.5 up the North Macdonald Trail when we saw the then small Howe Ridge Fire began to spread from 5 acres to over 2000 in a matter of hours. We hiked back to the car to get out where it was parked at the end of a dead end road. We had just driven this road (safely) 3 hours before to get in and it was our only way out, apart from trying to stay ahead of the fire on foot. After we were stopped by the downed tree, we reversed back through all of this and were rescued by two park employees on a boat. They saved our lives. We were not joyriding through a wildfire.

Very dry weather and record-setting high temperatures in the Glacier National Park area in the last several weeks have dried out the fuels and are causing the fire to spread much more rapidly than is typical for the area. Usually firefighters have days to think about rates of spread and to run fire behavior computer models, but this blaze is shortening those time frames making it difficult, for example, to evacuate the west side of Lake McDonald as quickly as needed.

A weather system will bring slightly cooler temperatures, but the frontal passage will increase winds and cause shifts in wind directions. This could significantly affect fire behavior on the southern and western flanks of the fire. Saturday smoke over the fire prevented aircraft from dropping water.

Crews are working around structures in the Fish Creek Campground area and along the Inside North Fork Road to reduce fuels and to set up sprinkler systems. Structure protection efforts continue along the north end of Lake McDonald using sprinkler systems around the remaining structures on North Lake McDonald Road. Personnel are installing hoses and sprinklers to minimize potential fire spread towards the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Fire managers will continue to proactively plan for protection of other areas as the fire progresses.

The Fish Creek Campground area is now under an evacuation order. Evacuation orders remain in place for the North Lake McDonald road (private residences and the Lake McDonald Ranger Station), Lake McDonald Lodge area (all businesses, employees, and private residences), private residences along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, and Sprague Creek and Avalanche Campgrounds.

Howe Ridge Fire burns thousands of acres in Glacier National Park

The fire is on the north end of Lake McDonald north of West Glacier, Montana

Above: The Howe Ridge Fire at the north end of Lake McDonald, August 12, 2018. NPS photo.

(Originally published at noon August 16, 2018)

The Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park has burned 3,500 acres at the north end of Lake McDonald 8 miles north of West Glacier, Montana. It started August 11 from a lightning strike and is being “managed”, or herded around, rather than being fully suppressed. The 78 personnel assigned to the fire are protecting structures and utilizing water drops from air tankers and helicopters to slow the spread where needed. However on Wednesday fixed wing aircraft were grounded due to heavy smoke.

Structural protection crews worked Wednesday to reduce risk to buildings at the head of Lake McDonald and Kelly’s Camp.

The time-lapse video of the fire below is very impressive:


The Southwest Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, under the command of John Pierson, is onsite and will be taking over management of the fire at 6:00 a.m. Friday. Mr. Pierson’s team is also managing two other fires, the Paola Ridge and Coal Ridge fires.

map Howe Ridge Fire
Map showing the perimeter of the Howe Ridge Fire based on a mapping flight at 10:30 p.m. MDT August 15, 2018.

Area closures and evacuations remain in place. The Going-to-the-Sun Road remains open between St. Mary and Logan Pass. It is closed between the foot of Lake McDonald (near Apgar) and Logan Pass. Apgar Village, Apgar Campground and Fish Creek campground remain open. Most other areas of the park are open.

Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park
Howe Ridge Fire, August 12, 2018. NPS photo.
Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park
Water scooping air tankers work the Howe Ridge Fire in Glacier National Park. Undated NPS photo.