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Left: GFFR was called back to the scene along with a request for Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC)
aircraft and statewide mutual aid. Right: The Vineyard 2 Fire consumed more than 15,000 acres of grass, crops, and brush; threatened
multiple structures; and required the evacuation of hundreds of people from three major subdivisions.
2 Fire, Assistant Chief Ron Scott set out to fill it.
With nearly 30 years on the job, Scott was a longtime
proponent of purchasing appropriate apparatus and
understood the need.
After his budget request for a brush truck was
denied, Scott dug deeper into creative solutions and
found one offered by the Montana DNRC. Through
the County Cooperative Fire Protection Program, the
DNRC Equipment Development Center develops
various wildland firefighting apparatus (including
Type 6 engines). This equipment is owned by the
state but maintained and kept at the counties.
After finagling the money to purchase a Ford F-550
chassis, Scott partnered with the battalion chief in
charge of apparatus (Jeremy Jones), the city shops,
and the DNRC to build a brush truck from scratch.
This brand-new piece of apparatus is frontline for
wildland fires and other incidents within the city, rolls
as requested by its mutual-aid partners, and is available for large-scale urban interface issues throughout
Training: Any fire department worth its salt
understands the importance of training and maintains a program dedicated to keeping its people
sharp on their “bread and butter calls” and “
high-risk, low-frequency events.” Regardless of how solid
an individual department’s training programs are,
if mutual-aid partners don’t spend significant time
training together beforehand, issues are bound to arise
at a large incident.
Being a fast-moving event involving several
responding agencies, the stage was set for tactical
failure at the Vineyard 2 Fire. Even though organized
deployment of resources across the fireground could
have been improved on, individual departments relied
on their own training and experience to perform task
level work effectively.
Post-incident recognition of the need to spend
structured time training together to avoid frustra-
tion and keep crews operating safely at future events
spurred change. Although more remains to be done,
tabletops, face time, and boots on the ground drills
open to all mutual-aid departments have been initi-
ated and well received.
AFTER THE FIRE
The Vineyard 2 Fire consumed more than 15,000
acres of grass, crops, and brush; threatened multiple
structures; and required the evacuation of hundreds of
people from three major subdivisions. This level of destruction
placed it as the largest wildland
fire in Montana at the time
and exposed the strengths and
weaknesses of GFFR’s communications, apparatus, and training
while testing the resolve of the
fledgling mutual-aid agreement.
While certainly not without
flaw, the combined actions of
GFFR and mutual-aid partners
effectively protected its customers
and millions of dollars in
property. As they process and act
on the lessons learned at this
event, the combined forces realize
that the Vineyard 2 Fire made
history by changing the way a
130-year-old municipal fire
department does business!
Shane Klippenes is the training officer
at Great Falls (MT) Fire Rescue. He is a
TEMS paramedic, outdoorsman, author,
speaker, and all-season explorer of Montana’s wilder places. www.blackleafwrit-ing.com/shane@ blackleafwriting.com/