District responds to County Commissioners
Seeley Lake Rural Fire District Board
February 25, 2021
SEELEY LAKE – At their Feb. 16 meeting, the Seeley Lake Fire Board listened to letters written by Fire Chief Dave Lane and Board Chair Scott Kennedy in response to a letter dated Jan. 14 from the Missoula County Commissioners. It was sent to Board Chair Scott Kennedy and Sam Hunthausen, executive officer of the State Board of Medical Examiners.
Lane read his response to the Commissioners’ letter. This was also provided to the Pathfinder and parts were included in the Jan. 21 article “Commissioners discuss concerns regarding Seeley Lake Ambulance.”
Lane felt the need to read the letter at the meeting so the public could hear it in its entirety and it wouldn’t be taken out of context.
Kennedy also read a letter addressed to the District’s constituents. He said it will be sent to the Commissioners and to Hunthausen.
He started the letter off stating the District Board is the governing authority and the county does not adjudicate or investigate concerns. These concerns were raised by anonymous members of the public.
Kennedy reviewed nationwide volunteer response times for rural areas, as defined as 500 people or less per square mile. From his research, Kennedy found that on scene arrival time was 14-15 minutes, 80% of the time.
“The key here is staffing a shortage of volunteers not only county-wide but nationwide, adding paid personnel for reducing response times when needed,” Kennedy wrote.
Kennedy said the Seeley Lake Rural Fire District has responded to 800-900 calls in the last three years, with 85% being medical. The District covers a large response area 17 miles north, 22 miles south into Potomac and potentially 40 miles to the southeast covering parts of Powell County.
Kennedy reported that in the last four years Seeley Lake Fire District has improved their response times and their on scene response is slightly better than the national averages.
Kennedy pointed out that the District has the option to shift to a combination department with more paid staffing, something that has been discussed for more than 15 years. The voters would have to approve the levy increase.
“It is entirely up to our constituents as to what level of service advanced care they desire,” Kennedy wrote.
Kennedy further described the research needed and advantages with paid staff. He said the District currently has approximately 14 personnel on the roster consisting of Lane as a paramedic, eight EMTs, one on leave with injury and three non-active EMTs of which two indicated are returning in the near future, recurrent training EMTs and three new firefighters in training.
“We will continue to build a department and seek those that want to help with the efforts and volunteer with their community,” Kennedy wrote. “The Seeley Lake Fire District Board has an obligation to all the people in the District regardless of who knows who or popularity. We have come a long way with changes. And there is no division between the volunteers, paid staff or the board.”
Candidate for the Seeley Lake Fire Board Kristy Pohlman asked if the Chief or Board has talked to East Missoula Rural Fire District about how they staff their District 24-7 with volunteers.
“I think it just [maybe] warrants a conversation Chief-to-Chief if you’re interested Mr. Lane,” Pohlman said. “Mr. [Justin] Shaffer is amazing to talk to. He took that station from four volunteers to now there’s a waiting list of volunteers. It’s pretty cool what he does.”
According to their website, East Missoula Rural Fire District is a fully volunteer department that operates with a membership of 15 -20 volunteers. The District is the primary emergency response entity for approximately 2,070 residents whose volunteers respond to more than 300 calls for emergency service annually, while maintaining mutual and automatic aid agreements with surrounding jurisdictions.
In other business:
• Kennedy received correspondence regarding SoleStone Reimbursement Services and recent statements he was quoted saying in the Seeley Swan Pathfinder. He said he intends to review it with legal council and respond to the letter’s requests including raising the prior concerns about billing and public funds. The board will further discuss this in an executive session Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 1 p.m.
• The board received a letter from Kathy Davis praising the Department’s response and knowledge when assisting a family member. “We are so lucky to have this high quality medical care and quick response in our communities. Those that don’t understand your dedication need to walk in your shoes.”
The next regularly scheduled Fire Board meeting is scheduled for March 16 at 6 p.m. at the Seeley Lake Fire Hall. For more information and the agenda visit seeleyfire.org.