By Jessianne Castle EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Construction has begun at the Big Sky Fire Department with two major remodels that will allow both fire stations to accommodate additional on-call firefighters.

According to Fire Chief William Farhat, Fire Station One, located near Big Sky Town Center, is overdue for an upgrade. He said the siding needs attention, a roof leak is in need of repair, and while seven firefighters are on duty for 48-hour shifts, they must share a single shower. In addition to maintenance repairs and adding additional bathrooms, the department will renovate the bedrooms and create an ADA-accessible entrance.

Fire Station Two, located near the Big Sky Mountain Village, will be upgraded to allow for 24-hour occupancy. This will include construction of five bedrooms, a kitchen and bathrooms. “The station was never designed for how we’re using it,” Farhat said. “It was a volunteer fire station … with no sleeping quarters.”

Farhat said the improvements should be complete by April, at a cost of approximately $2.1 million. Funding for this project is coming from a mill levy request taxpayers passed in 2017.

“It’s been wonderful. It’s been a great support,” Farhat said of the voter’s decision.

The mill levy, amounting to a sum of $1.5 million annually, is also being used to create 11 additional positions in phases over the next few years. So far, the department has hired two additional firefighters and a deputy chief of community risk management.

These expansions within the department are a reflection of the growth happening in Big Sky. Tasked with providing both medical and emergency services in a remote and growing mountain area, the fire department conducted a study in 2015 in order to develop a plan in response to the growth.

The 2015 study projected that by 2025, the department would be receiving 878 calls annually. However, speaking on the last day of December, Farhat said the department exceeded this number in 2018, seven years early. “This year was another big year in growth for us.”

Since Farhat joined the department in 2011, the call volume has jumped 77 percent, with an average increase of 11 percent each year. The majority of the calls are for medical services, though Farhat said they aren’t necessarily all calls for help up at the ski hill.

“There’s not one thing that stands out, it’s just more of it,” Farhat said, adding that perhaps the biggest strain has been receiving multiple calls at once. In an hour and a half period during the day on Dec. 31, 2018, for example, the department responded to three medical calls.

Over the coming months, the Big Sky Fire Department Board of Trustees will consider the timeline and pace of hiring additional positions, while the department also conducts a second study on growth and emergency response.