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Big Sky Fire Department preps for wildfire season

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Firefighters at the Big Sky Fire Department complete yearly wildland fire training in anticipation of the approaching fire season. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – In order to remain up to date with their wildland fire training, firefighters must be able to complete a rigorous athletic task: cover three miles in 45 minutes with 45 pounds on their backs. Although this might sound simple, it becomes extremely important when they are deployed in the wilderness trying to navigate uneven terrain with heavy loads of supplies. 

On the sunny morning of May 12, four members of the Big Sky Fire Department’s shift C crew successfully completed their pack tests and a fire shelter deployment test, preparing them for the upcoming fire season. 

In addition to an increased focus on training, the Big Sky Fire Department will receive two new wildland fire engines in June, according to Deputy Fire Chief Dustin Tetrault. The new engines can hold 500 gallons of water each, compared to the 250 gallons that the department’s current engine holds.

Tetrault emphasized that there will be an elevated fire risk this summer and he is using his background in wildland fires to train up the Big Sky crews. 

Prior to the pack test and shelter training, BSFD went out on prescribed burn training with the Forest Service to clear out some sage flats ahead of this summer. Coming up on May 20, BSFD will complete chainsaw training as part of their continuing wildland firefighting education. 

“We are really formalizing our team and getting the guys trained,” Tetrault said. 

He contextualized the importance of wildland fire training through the frequency of different types of calls. According to Tetrault, the most common call BSFD receives is an Emergency Medical Service call, second is a fire alarm call, but the third most frequent call that they receive is wildland fires.

Mark Loomis, captain of the C shift, shared a standard daily routine which, in addition to meetings, equipment checks, physical fitness and responding to calls, includes daily training. 

Loomis says they feel pretty good about being prepared for this summer and he and his crew will be doing continuing education throughout the summer. 

The ability of the fire department to focus on wildland fire training and get the crews dialed is a welcome change, according to Tetrault. He noted that this year is the 50th anniversary of the Big Sky Fire Department, but that it was staffed entirely by volunteers until the early 2000s. Since the shift from volunteers to fulltime staff, the department has become a career station keeping the Big Sky community safe and responding to mutual aid calls around the state and even the wider mountain west. 

“Let’s talk about wildfire preparedness,” Loomis said. “Everybody that lives here can do the best they can to mitigate their property. … If everybody can do just a little part of [mitigation] it has a huge impact on what happens in the big picture.”

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