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By Joann Wallenburn
Seeley Lake, Mont. 

Vote For Trustees that Will Support Our Fire Volunteers


April 12, 2018

SEELEY LAKE - As we all know, Seeley Lake is a small, rural, unincorporated community. For fire and medical emergencies, we are served by a volunteer fire department. Our property taxes pay to outfit the department with equipment and gear, pay for employee salaries, volunteer recruitment, training and supervision.

There are typically three paid employees: the chief, an office worker and a maintenance worker. Volunteer ranks are usually between three and four dozen. The volunteers are the heart and soul of the department.

Let’s face it, if they are responding to an emergency that you or your family is experiencing – you are not having a good day. They leave their families and come voluntarily during our most trying times to help us out. They do not volunteer to serve the chief or the Board of Trustees. They volunteer to serve us, the community. They are OUR volunteers and, I would argue, the most valuable asset in the department.

We elect a five person Board of Trustees from among us to manage the money, the assets and the chief. The Board also develops the policies by which the department is run. The chief implements the policies and is responsible for day-to-day operations.

I recently attended a regular Fire Board meeting where there was a lively discussion about recent terminations of some of our volunteers. The county attorney that represents the Fire Board was in attendance.

What we learned from him is that had these volunteers been paid employees they would have been protected by standard and universal HR policies against retaliatory action for whistle-blowing and wrongful termination. As volunteers, they had no such protections.

I would hope that our volunteers would have even MORE protections. I am upset that there were NO protections when these actions were being taken and the Board didn’t take the high-road and pattern its actions in line with Missoula County HR policies anyway.

We, the community lost multiple volunteers and their combined decades of experience and training and dedication to this community. Only one board member attempted to stop and object to this type of treatment of OUR volunteers. Both incumbents seeking reelection publicly condoned and supported the actions that were taken.

To their credit, the Board and the Chief have since implemented disciplinary policies for our volunteers. Had the Chief and the Board followed these very policies just two months earlier, we, the community would not be deprived of these valuable volunteers.

We have read comments by board member Connie Clark in the newspaper and on social media that the volunteers were invited multiple times to meet with the Chief and the Board. If you received an invitation to what was clearly going to be a tribunal and you were required to come alone and face a panel of adversaries, would you go?

We need to say ‘no more’ and not return any incumbent to the Fire Board. Let’s elect Trustees who will treat our volunteers as the valuable assets they are. Vote for Alyssa McLean, Shawn Ellinghouse or Mark Kues. Thank you volunteers!


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