By Emily Stifler Explorebigsky.com Managing Editor

GREAT FALLS – Three representatives from the Big Sky Fire Dept. attended the annual Montana Firefighter Testing Consortium June 4-7, joining nine other fire departments from around the state at the Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls.

More than 300 firefighters from across the country looking to work professionally in Montana took part in the comprehensive written and physical exams, and BSFD Chief Bill Farhat said he met job seekers from as far away as New York and California.

Although Big Sky Fire is not currently hiring, Farhat, firefighter Martha Fecht, and BSFD consultant Al Scholes all attended as part of an annual obligation.

Participating firefighters had to first pass the written exam by 70 percent or better to get a chance to take the physical exam. Of the more than 300 participants, 244 total passed the physical exam.

“It’s highly competitive,” said Michele Shea, an administrator for the consortium.

Because the exams are based on a national standard, Farhat said they allow the departments to find the best possible new employees. BSFD benefits from participating in the consortium, he said, because it would be very difficult for such a small department to properly hold a testing like that on its own.

“It eliminates a lot of work for us. When we’re ready to hire someone, we just go to that list of firefighters who have already been tested.”

At the consortium, Farhat helped with orientation, Fecht was a lead proctor, and Scholes helped equip participating firefighters.

“It gives us an idea who’s out there looking for a position, and it allows us to advertise how good of a department Big Sky is,” Farhat said.

BSFD has 10 paid firefighters, including Chief Farhat. Big Sky’s rural setting and lack of neighbors gives it a lot of challenges, he said.

“This is an important job, not something you do arbitrarily or on a whim. It requires a lot of responsibility and maturity and a certain aptitude. My job is to hire the very best people.”

Farhat, who has been with BSFD for 10 months, describes the department as professional, well trained and proficient.

“It’s a group of people who like coming to work and work hard for the community. It’s fun to be part of it.”

The ten departments involved in the consortium are Big Sky Fire Department, Billings Fire Department, Bozeman Fire Department, Butte Fire Department, Great Falls Fire/Rescue, Helena Fire Department, Lockwood Rural Fire District, Miles City Fire Department, Missoula Fire Department, and Missoula Rural Fire District.