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  1. #1
    MembersZone Subscriber SamsonFCDES's Avatar
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    Jul 2003

    Default With Widlfire, Money Is No Object

    Here is a recent special report from the Montana newspapers.


    At the bottom of the above page are more links and info on this subject.

    Money is no object when wildfires burn
    Gazette State Bureau
    and EVE BYRON
    Helena Independent Record

    Wildfires burned more than 250,000 acres in Montana last year. In just three months, the state’s share of the firefighting bill was more than $73 million, with federal agencies incurring the rest of the cost.

    That is enough money to run the state’s six public and private prisons, as well as the state’s five prerelease centers for an entire year. But unlike the Department of Corrections, which keeps track of expenses right down to the last aspirin, no one at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation knows exactly where the money went.

    Reporters Jennifer McKee of the Gazette State Bureau and Eye Byron of the Helena Independent Record analyzed thousands of DNRC firefighting invoices that were paid between July and November 2003 and totaled about $30 million.

    Here’s some of what they found: The state paid about $20 million to rent engines and other equipment when it would have been cheaper to buy them. Out-of-state companies took home roughly $10,000 a day to bring in firefighters while thousands in Montana were unemployed. In one month alone, temporary tent offices cost the state $200,000.

    All this was paid for with money the DNRC didn’t have.

    Wade Campbell made just under $10,000 in one month last summer working forest fires. Some days he hauled a heavy pack and chain saw up and down mountains, felling trees or cutting through snags as part of his exhausting duties.

    But other days Campbell and the crew played horseshoes and watched movies, getting paid to be ready just in case a fire started.

    Every night the whole gang drove into town and went out to eat on the government dime.

    "We did everything we could to stay busy," he said, "but there were definitely slow times."

    Campbell's $10,000 is one small line in Montana's $73 million bill for the fires of 2003. It's a bill that includes $86,000 to a California company to wash, dry and fold firefighter clothes, $2,200 for company workers to drive home after 18 days on the job, or up to $35 an hour to hire one out-of-state firefighter, even as close to 20,000 Montanans were unemployed.

    It's a bill that includes more than $5.8 million to rent wildfire engines at least 607 times from private contractors when the state, which maintains just 65 such engines statewide, could have purchased a fleet for the same price.

    An analysis of fire spending reveals a system of fighting and paying for wildfires that seems cobbled together by a mixture of science and historical practices. With its limited fleet and firefighters who are tasked with initial attack, then pulled off fires after 24 hours, the state seems ill-prepared to battle major blazes.

    To make up for this, the state spent more than $25 million leasing equipment and personnel at the height of the West's fire season, paying crisis prices for everything from water trucks to swamp coolers.

    fire-expenses.xls (MS Excel)
    fire-expenses.pdf (Acrobat PDF)

    The state allocates no money for firefighting, even though Montana incurred an average $24 million bill each year for the last seven years battling wildfire. And no one at the top can say precisely where the money went, least of all the lawmakers who sign the state's checks and routinely approve after-the-fact spending.

    Where the money went

    Montana's Department of Natural Resources and Conservation - the arm of state government responsible for firefighting - owns 65 fire engines, five helicopters and three planes. It employs about 175 full- and part-time employees, and draws on hundreds of volunteer firefighters throughout the state to provide initial attack on small fires on around 5 million acres. The goal, DNRC chief Bud Clinch said, is to douse these fires shortly after they ignite and not to concentrate all the state's resources on one big fire. The state's firefighters are generally pulled off fires after 24 hours to be ready for initial attacks elsewhere.

    By all accounts, the state's fleet and local volunteer firefighters performed admirably last summer, responding to 575 fires and dousing 96 percent of them before they grew larger than 10 acres. And they're cheap. The whole force cost only about $3.5 million, with bills ranging from $40 to put out the little-known Car on Car fire near Clearwater Junction to $26,000 for the Shoofly fire near Missoula.

    It was the fires that got away that bumped Montana's fire bill to more than $70 million in 2003.

    The state doesn't have the equipment or manpower to fight a large forest fire, Clinch said.

    Instead, Montana leases everything imaginable. The state usually calls in federal fire bosses to manage the blaze and hires private contractors listed through a national fire dispatch center to do the work.

    A sampling of the going rates includes:

    • $1,330 a day to lease a wildland fire engine, plus workers to operate it. One out-of-state contractor made almost $3,000 a day for his. (EBay had an engine for sale in early May for $5,100.) Engines leased without workers go for $798 a day.

    • $770 a day to lease a semi-truck flatbed trailer needed to haul a bulldozer. The state pays the contractor $770 every day, even though the flatbed trailers were mostly idle. All told, taxpayers paid more than $838,000 for such trailers.

    • $106,000 on hotel rooms for people working fires who, for one reason or another, did not stay at the fire camps.

    • $1.14 million to lease water tenders, trucks that bring water to the fire engines and can spray blazes. Some tenders leased by the state were relatively new, but others were as crude as a heavy-duty pickup with a metal tank bolted into the bed. A used water tender can be bought for around $45,000.

    • Almost $200,000 to rent wall tents, swamp coolers and lights. A new wall tent can be purchased for $893 - made locally with fire resistant material. Swamp coolers sell for $229 at Wal-Mart.

    • $39,000 to a guest ranch for making some 2,600 sack lunches at $15 apiece.

    • $32,000 to rent chain saws from tree cutters, who already were paid more than $25 an hour. A new professional-grade chain saw sells for between $550 to $1,400.

    About $37 million of Montana's $73 million bill came from the U.S. Forest Service, which controls firefighting efforts on many of the large blazes and contracts with private companies or fire departments to put the fires out. The state pays a portion of the cost based on land ownership.

    The other $36 million of the state's bill paid for contracts the state signed with public and private firms for their firefighting work.

    Most of that $36 million - more than $20 million - was paid to lease equipment. Another $2.5 million paid for DNRC crews' time, plus $2.7 million to hire people on an emergency basis to do everything from drive cars to cut trees. Contracted firefighters, almost all of whom came from out of state, cost another $2.5 million, and the state paid around $800,000 to feed all these people.

    The state also spent $4 million to hire more than 150 fire engines, personal trucks and portable toilets, among other items, to be on standby just in case wildfires started. This money, known as "severity" funding, included about $3 million to hire the companies, and another $50,000 to feed their employees.

    Only a fraction of the firefighting costs were included in the state budget. And until reporters assembled the receipts this spring, the man in charge of Montana's firefighting effort, State Forester Bob Harrington, said he didn't know specifically how the state spent its firefighting money, nor was he ever asked to produce a list showing where the money went.

    Rep. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, a former Forest Service finance officer and current chairman of the legislative committee that drafts the state budget, said he's never seen a breakdown of firefighting costs, even though one of the first tasks of most legislatures is to pay the fire bill.

    Senate Minority Leader Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, who serves on the Senate's budget-crafting committee, also said he's never seen such a list.

    That lack of information makes it hard for lawmakers to know if they're spending tax dollars wisely and if the current system is working, Lewis said.

    "There hasn't been any legislative scrutiny," he said.

    This system may not be perfect, Clinch said, but until recently, it worked pretty well. The state's saving grace was wetter summers and smaller fires.

    Clinch said it's no accident Montana maintains no long-term firefighters and a small number of engines.

    "Engines are expensive. And it's not just a matter of lining up more engines. You need to man these," Clinch said. "If we had 75 more engines, what would we do if next year (was wet) and these crews just sat there? We've tried to develop a baseline."

    Clinch agrees that the state could have bought new equipment for what taxpayers spent leasing it in 2003. But he's reluctant to ramp up state crews and equipment based upon what, by most accounts, has been an unusually intense period of fire years. More trucks mean more maintenance, he said, and there's no guarantee the state will need it every year.

    "At some time, we are going to see normal precipitation," he said.

    The system is not unique to Montana, Clinch said. No single state could hope to absorb the cost - or maintain the ready manpower - to fight a major forest fire. So a system evolved, Clinch said, in which Montana focused on containing small fires, but turned to the federal government, adjacent states and private contractors when those small fires aren't contained.

    But Scott Waldron, fire chief of the Frenchtown Rural Fire District and fire warden for Missoula County, said the state's initial attack forces are too small to realistically deal with small fires - a situation that almost guarantees some will get away.

    More people live in and near forests today. The state's forests are drier and contain more small-diameter, fire-prone trees, Waldron said. Despite that, the DNRC has not added men or engines to its initial attack crews in 10 years, he said. In fact, State Forester Bob Harrington said DNRC axed two positions due to legislative budget cuts.

    In short, Waldron said, the state has done nothing to respond to the combustible combination of drought, overgrown forests and more people living in the woods. It took a long time for conditions in the forest to reach the current level of combustibility, and Waldron said that's not going to change overnight.

    "Their funding is just inadequate to meet the needs of wildland firefighting," he said. "I don't believe the state has adjusted to the terribly different fire environment that has occurred. DNRC Initial Attack needs to be better prepared up front instead of being reactive."

    Instead, the state prays for rain, allows big fires to start and ends up paying bigger bills.

    Lewis said Montana is hardly alone. The system of bringing in federal fire bosses and millions in contracted equipment is the norm across the country.

    By doing so, these federal bosses, who are not accountable to Montana taxpayers and are accustomed to spending a lot of money, end up making these costly decisions, he said.

    "There is a history of the Forest Service being a blank check," Lewis said, "and that history has infected the whole thing. The history of firefighting in the Northern Rockies is that money is no object."
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

  2. #2
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    May 2004


    If structural people were cost-reviewed by municipalities
    like this review (containing much GAO material) reviews
    the fed, how long would it take to roll management
    and try something different?


  3. #3
    MembersZone Subscriber SamsonFCDES's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2003


    Letters to the Editor
    Reference the article you reprinted stating we have no access to hand crews form in state:

    If they would leave Helena they would find we have access to lots of hand crews. I am sure the five Native American reservations in the state would be glad to fill them in on the amount of hand crews they send out from here each year. Reference the hispanics: they are a real problem to us. They have to have at least two folks on each crew who speak English. You have to have worked with them to understand how flexible the term "speak English" can be.

    John Bennett , Simms

    I have been reading the recent articles on wildland firefighting with fascination. I have been fighting fire for about thirty years and have learned a bit about the business. I have worked big fires and small, wildland and structure, easy and impossible. I have worked as a paid seasonal wildland firefighter and as a volunteer at every level with my local fire district. I have been paid by the Forest Service and Montana State for both in-District and mutual aid responses.

    This year, I am trying to work as a private contractor with my own wildland engine. I failed my first Forest Service inspection because my rig was 400 pounds overweight. I failed my second inspection because of a slightly worn part. I have remedied those deficiencies, passed my equipment inspections, inventory inspection, and pump and draft test and will now attempt to supply the required paperwork for DUNS registration, proof of vehicle ownership, proof of crew qualifications (course completion certificates (3 per crew member) and arduous pack test results), commercial drivers license with DOT medical card, personnel and vehicle insurance ($6,000 per season), Montana state and DOT registration, inspection, and certification, and CCR Defense Logistics Agency registration (required to contract with a Federal agency). I started this process in March and I think I will be able to complete it in the next three or four weeks. Of course, any of these items can be refused or the requirements changed without my knowledge. It is a bit of a gamble and the rules change each year. And Montana and the Feds are always in disagreement about some of the rules. I spend about three days of unpaid work for every paid day of firefighting service, assuming I even get called for a fire. In the end, after paying for all my own repairs, servicing, fuel, crew wages, and my own upkeep, I figure I earn enough to barely make it worth all the effort and frustration. Many would-be contractors give up half way through the process. Only a few contractors can manage to come back season after season. In spite of the appearance of big dollars, it is a tough business that discourages longevity.

    Most of your articles’ coverage is spent on the expenses incurred for firefighting. We are in a transition time. Fires are bigger and more deadly and destructive. The forests are no longer logged or thinned. More houses and people are in the middle of all this fuel. The risks are many times what they were fifty years ago. It is clear that a new approach is required to address this largely unexpected situation. States, Forest Districts, insurance companies, taxpayers, and residents will all have to develop a better system of responsibilities so that we can create a new balance. Until then, we see inefficiencies as we struggle to get by. Thus the high costs and many apparent faults.

    You touch on the cost of lunches. Most of your readers probably have not experienced the conditions on the fire line. Line firefighters are burning three times the calories and no matter how much they eat, they still lose weight. A fireline meal must try to keep up with the huge expenditure of work. 7-8000 calories a day for weeks on end is common. Firefighters often eat two or three lunches and their bodies still need more. These are organic engines that must have fuel for hard work and the particular fuel must be of high food value. Filler foods are of no use. High quality and carefully balanced nutrition is required. This can be expensive, but it pays off in higher productivity where it really counts. Give me protein, pure sources of glucose, vitamins and minerals, and more protein!

    As a volunteer firefighter, I respond to emergencies 365 days a year, 24/7. I do not receive any pay for these typical emergencies. Our land owners pay a modest tax to maintain our equipment. That tax is not enough to pay for repairs to the equipment from the hard duty performed during a bad fire season. My fire district cannot absorb these expenses. We just don’t have the money. There are two alternatives: pay a third party to come into our District to fight these big fires or let the Feds and state pay our Fire District to do the job. This is not double-dipping; it is compensation for a much higher level of work and wear and tear on our equipment.

    On a big state fire, our firefighters typically are earning much less money fighting fire than they earn at their regular jobs. They often cannot afford to fight fire instead of going to their normal job. Montana pays the lowest firefighting wages to Montana-based firefighters and especially to fire districts. The reason there are so few Montana private contractors is because, in spite of the apparent numbers, the bottom line is not that great. However, if you are from California Division of Forestry (CDF), you are earning three times what Montanans are earning. The high wages ensure a good supply of CDF firefighters nationwide. Wouldn’t we rather have Montanans earning that money?

    There are long-term solutions. AustraliaR17;s “Prepare, Stay and Survive” program is one. It incorporates our “Fire Wise” approach, but suggests that the resident is best served if he stays to defend his home during a fire rather than evacuate. It has a good record in a land that faces wildland fires every season. It places a great deal of responsibility on the land owner and the burden on the fire services is eased. With some adjustment for our own situation, it could help tremendously to reduce costs of interface fires by making our homes more resistant to wildland fires. We would need fewer fire trucks and firefighters and helicopters and water tenders… And if we can somehow reduce the fuel loads in the forest, we will be on our way to making fire a minor event.

    If your series of articles had been published last year when Missoula was surrounded by eighteen out-of-control fires, your readers would have trashed your paper. When your house is threatened, you want firefighting resources no matter what the cost! But now, when the rains are making everything green and lush, the high costs of firefighting seem unacceptable. In just a few weeks, the temperatures will rise and humidities will fall. Fuels will quickly dry and lightning will find a very receptive host for catastrophic fire. Where will the resources come from to deal with it all? How much will people be willing to pay when the world is on fire? Who will be willing to risk their life to face the flames?

    A measure of reasonableness of an expense is supply and demand. When we need the services of firefighters and their equipment, will the going rate be enough to convince enough resources to respond? In recent years, there have not been sufficient resources. Private contractors and fire districts are trying to meet the need, but perhaps we need to ask what we can do to encourage and facilitate more training and participation by able-bodied firefighters. Maybe now that you have pointed out the many deficiencies, you can instead suggest some workable solutions.

    A Tresemer , Firefighter, homeowner, and taxpayer , Alta, Montana


    Crew paid to fight fires in its back yard
    By EVE BYRON of the Helena Independent Record and JENNIFER McKEE of the Missoulian State Bureau

    When Bill Cyr hired the Lincoln Rural Fire District and some of its volunteers last summer, he inadvertently ripped the scab off an old sore within the firefighting community. Cyr, the top firefighter for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in Lincoln, authorized paying the volunteers to fight fires in their own fire protection district. This rarely used tactic funneled $94,900 to the volunteer organization between July and September, more than doubling the district's typical annual income. Cyr's decision to hire the volunteers raised eyebrows for several reasons. First, he was the Lincoln fire chief at the time, which brought up questions of a conflict of interest. Second, the rural fire district already collects money from people within the district to fight fires, so some accused the district of double dipping - taking money from those with property within the district, and again from state taxpayers.

    Also, his action violated the written manual developed by the Northern Rockies Coordinating Group, which covers the hiring practices in Montana, Idaho, North Dakota and five federal agencies that manage public lands. The manual specifically states that "Fire Service Organizations working within their own legal jurisdiction will not be reimbursed by DNRC or the Federal Fire Agency." And as recently as last January, at a DNRC presentation to volunteer fire groups in Jefferson County, handouts stated that "DNRC will not pay local government resources in their own jurisdictions." A brief internal investigation by the DNRC absolved Cyr of any wrongdoing, although he did resign as fire chief in Lincoln. Cyr's boss, State Forester Bob Harrington, supports Cyr's actions last summer, saying that even though the Lincoln fire district's employees are trained by the DNRC to fight forest fires and their equipment includes wildland engines - fire trucks equipped to work in the forests - the local fire department's main role is to protect structures. "I know it's a gray area, but just because you walk into the Lincoln Fire Department and they have wildland firefighting capabilities, is that their primary responsibility?" Harrington queried. "If we are asking them to dedicate people and operations to the DNRC, we are obligated to pay them. "We like to use the closest resources, who can spend the nights in their own beds and we don't have to get them hotel rooms. They know the fuel, land and fire behavior. And you can imagine that if we brought in someone from Wyoming, we would have heard about it." Tim Murphy, the head of the DNRC fire and aviation bureau, adds that paying volunteers just to be prepared to run on a fire within their own district is appropriate because they don't typically respond to a fire until they're called. "So they're usually on some other job they're being pulled away from," Murphy said. "If we are going to use those folks to do our job they're expecting some compensation."

    Still, Harrington avoids being pinned down as to whether it's a practice that he'll encourage, or even allow, in the future. "I know it has some implications of violating the (NRCG) umbrella document," Harrington said. "But I believe that document gives us some latitude." That's news to Rick Grady, the Helena unit fire supervisor for DNRC, who also trains volunteer fire departments on how to work with the state. For years, he has told them that Montana will not pay volunteers within their own districts, although volunteer fire departments responding from outside the district can be compensated. And he thinks the policy is correct. "The volunteer fire departments get money from the residents within their district to do fire protection. They're getting paid twice if they also get money from the state," Grady said. "That's why we don' t pay them to protect their own district. Look in their fire stations. They have wildland equipment. That's what they do, and already are collecting taxpayers' dollars to do." The DNRC relies heavily on volunteer fire departments working outside their own districts. For example, in less than four months, Frenchtown Rural Fire District ran on at least 16 different fires, bringing about $195,000 into that volunteer organization's coffers. The Greenough Potomac Volunteer Fire Department attended only about six fires but earned almost $150,000 for its equipment.
    Paying firefighters to work within their own districts was news to Dave Mason, who heads a Helena-area coalition of 17 volunteer fire departments. "The DNRC has a policy that they will not hire you in your own district to do your own fire suppression," Mason said. "They are real adamant about it."

    But Scott Waldron, Frenchtown Rural Fire District's chief and fire marshal for Missoula County, said the policy is dead wrong. He has long said that volunteers who work alongside private contractors should be paid the same rate. They're cheaper than most private contractors, because the volunteers can sleep it their own beds at night and don't have to be fed, plus they know the terrain. "There's no state law that says they can't get paid," Waldron said. "It's really the most cost-effective use of resources." However, some private contractors call foul on the practice. They point out that much of the volunteer's gear is purchased with grants or loans from federal or state agencies. "I don't think it's right for a contractor or private individual to compete against the rural fire departments," said Larry Revier of Plains, who leases buses and a water tender to the DNRC for firefighting. "Tax dollars paid for their water tenders. And what happens if your house burns down because their tender isn't in their district or they're working for the DNRC? I shouldn't have to be competing against them on wildland fires."

    Firefighting rigs can bring in bucks - if they pass the test
    By EVE BYRON of the Helena Independent Record and JENNIFER McKEE of the Missoulian State Bureau

    Paul Sheets and Justin Crum fidget as they stand near the rear of their 1997 flatbed truck, which is outfitted with what they hope is all the firefighting gear they'll need to take in around $1,300 a day this summer. They bought the truck from a guy who told them he made around $70,000 on wildfires last summer, "and he didn't even have to start the pump up," Sheets said, carefully watching as George McLaughlan, a Montana Highway Patrol commercial vehicle inspector, goes over the shiny rig inch by inch. Sheets was on the Helena Indian Alliance hand crew last year and found out from talking to fire engine operators that he was making pennies compared to their income. So Crum, Sheets and his stepfather, Jerry Crum, pooled their resources and bought the truck for about $20,000. "Hopefully next year, if everything goes well this summer, we'll get another engine and hire some more people," Sheets said.

    McLaughlan pulls a tape measure across the back of the silver flatbed, his brow furrowing as he takes another reading from the flatbed to the floor. Something's wrong here. He later shows how the left side is tilted about an inch lower than the right side of the flatbed. Somebody changed the configuration of the pumps, hoses or water tank bolted to the floor. "It's loaded different; it was balanced last year," McLaughlan said. "Like this, it's going to put extra wear on the tires. It's pulling on the frame. The steering's going to be erratic even on a paved road. "These trucks aren't meant to go on mountain roads; they're made to pull a motor home down the highway. They're not made for this weight."

    Hundreds of these inspections are taking place across Montana and the West, as people try to sign on to earn a share of what was a billion-dollar industry nationwide last year. With the right equipment and a drought, three people and a fire truck can make $45,000 in less than three weeks. The influx of men and machines is a mixed blessing. Now that more resources are available, chances are that state and federal agencies only have to put out a call and dozens of privately owned water-hauling trucks, bulldozing tractors, all-terrain vehicles - almost any kind of heavy equipment imaginable - are at their command. However, the quality of those rigs, and their operators, varies greatly, to the dismay not just of those hiring the equipment, but also to the firefighters on the lines. "I spent about $200,000 on my machine, not counting the $15,000 for the water system alone," said Dave Hoback, who's turned his logging skidgine into one of the top-dollar rigs on a fire. "I've seen guys or heard on fires where contractors just hire people and they're out in the parking lot trying to train them how to run a cat or skidgine. They're putting operators on stuff they don't know how to run."

    People also have shown up on fires with old dump trucks hauling even older rusty fuel tanks filled with water and hooked to a hose. This equipment can be dangerous to everyone on a fire - contractors cite examples of vehicles stalling at inopportune times or losing their brakes or pumping capabilities - and adding to the insult is that the operator may be getting the same daily rate as the guy with a new rig that meets all the specs. Just about everyone who deals with firefighting at the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation has heard the complaints. After the 2000 wildfires, they've taken a stronger stance as to what will and will not be allowed on fire lines. Throughout Montana, DNRC and inspectors like McLaughlan are holding seminars, handing out spec sheets and crawling over, under and around firefighting rigs prior to the expected wildfire season.

    "We check the tires, the drive lines. We check the seals. We look for any mechanical defects. We listen to the engine and if it sounds bad - like if there's a knock, or blue smoke - it's not going to pass," said Rick Grady, DNRC Helena unit fire supervisor. "We've had concerns brought up last fall on people getting on the fire line who shouldn't have been there - and we're trying to make sure it's all good equipment and the pay is fair and equitable. We want contractors to be treated fairly and equitably." At this particular contractor signup, 19 engines were inspected; three failed to pass. Of eight water tenders, only five were signed on. Both skidgines were approved, and 10 more pieces of equipment were awaiting a thorough going over. Grady said that some of the problems for the equipment that failed included incomplete training records or mechanical problems.

    McLaughlan makes a few suggestions to Sheets and the Crums, who agree to make the changes and come back to get reinspected. "Every day is a learning experience," Jerry Crum said.


    State eyes ways to trim fire bill
    By JENNIFER McKEE of the Missoulian State Bureau and EVE BYRON of the Helena Independent Record

    HELENA - While studies are undertaken to analyze spending and some tweaking of the firefighting system is taking place, wildfire suppression this summer will basically remain the same. One big change will see state involvement in the group of federal fire bosses who manage control of major forest fires, said Bud Clinch, chief of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. No one in state government is now directly involved in calling in equipment and manpower on many major blazes. Placing a state employee with top decision-makers will ensure that someone answerable to Montana taxpayers will have a role in high-priced decisions of what equipment to rent and which crews to recruit.

    The state is also going to be more cautious using fire retardant. Dropped from airplanes, the bright red flame-douser is always a crowd pleaser, Clinch said, and it lets the public know government is "doing something" to take on wildfire. But it's very expensive - $5,000 per drop or more - and not always worth the high cost. A $23,575 cost containment study, done in conjunction with North Dakota, Idaho and five federal agencies, will look at a handful of last year's larger fires to determine where money went and analyze how effective the spending was. State Forester Bob Harrington also wants to analyze broader firefighting policies. One such policy involves whether officials should continue to spend money on blazes that will be impossible to extinguish.
    "I want a discussion of what our policy should be, and the legal implications," Harrington said. "I also want to know what happens if we limit the tools in the tool box - like retardant drops around homes, and the home burns, then who is going to get sued?"

    A second study, scheduled to begin in July, will be a two-year fire-planning analysis. That work also will be done with federal agencies that manage natural resources in Montana, Idaho and North Dakota. Harrington said he hopes the studies will give the department an idea of needed resources - information he can take to the 2007 Legislature.

    Rick Grady, who has worked for the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation for the past 20 years, said that one way the state can be more effective is to have some manpower and equipment ready to handle major fires and not focus all of its energies on controlling the small ones. The state could form 20-person crews, he said, or invest in equipment. Idaho, for example, owns a bulldozer specifically for firefighting purposes, and uses it for roadwork when not needed on fire lines, he said. Another option is to hire rural fire department volunteers to work in their own firefighting district. That would allow the state to have volunteers and their equipment readily available in case small fires ignite during the day, when many of these people usually are at their regular jobs. Rep. Dave Lewis, R-Helena, said he thinks the state should beef up existing crews, currently used only for initial fire attack. The state needs more helicopters to douse remote fires that trucks can't reach, he said.

    Larry Revier, a private contractor from Plains would like to see more emphasis on local hires, already a goal of the DNRC. Others are trying to get Montana to set more contracts in advance to avoid paying crisis prices. The DNRC accounting staff has asked ice vendors about installing and stocking large coolers, like those found at grocery stores, at regional DNRC land offices. Bruce Swick, chief of the DNRC purchasing and contracting bureau, notes that crews running on a fire might stop at the local mini-mart and pick up a $1.25 bag of ice. The mini-mart sends a bill to the DNRC land office, which approves it and submits the bill to his office, where it's entered into the system and a check is issued. "There's all kinds of steps for that $1.25 bag of ice," Swick said. Vendors said the price would drop to 75 cents a bag if it was ordered in bulk. "It's just a small percentage of savings, but when you look at the fact that we spend several thousands of dollars on this product, it adds up, not just in the bag price but in the time spent on invoices," Swick said.
    -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
    -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

    -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

    -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.

  4. #4
    Forum Member
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    May 2004


    Slate is pushing material published by
    author Douglas Gantenbein on:

    This is not his only item at Slate.

    For fire retardant, an inside struggle
    is going on with Pyrocool;
    material used on 9/11 and stonewalled
    or being given the old runaround by the
    Forest Service. Can't figure out why
    that is, especially since Pyrocool won
    the Green Chemistry Award from
    the White House itself.

    Can you?
    Last edited by budthespud; 05-27-2004 at 12:39 PM.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Feb 2007

    Default Why

    Bad management that try to sneak around the system. This is what I have found out researching the company

  6. #6
    Forum Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Default You don't get rich!

    • $1.14 million to lease water tenders, trucks that bring water to the fire engines and can spray blazes. Some tenders leased by the state were relatively new, but others were as crude as a heavy-duty pickup with a metal tank bolted into the bed. A used water tender can be bought for around $45,000.

    Well I contract a Water Tender Type II 2500 gal and you don't get rich doing it! This will be my 4th year doing it and it is a lot of work to get ready and get approved to fight the fires with the USFS. One year I got out 9 days while spending the whole summer by the phone waiting. Another year 15 days so in 2 years that is 24 days and is not making a killing. I got 68 days in last year now that was a good year! That made up for 3 bad years so I could break even! Each year you hope to get called out because you spend over $3500.00 just to get the paper work done and that does not include your truck cost. If you break your truck you pay for it, if you need fuel you pay for it, if your pump fails you buy a new one and you also buy your cloths and Bendix King Radio. Fire Training, CDL Test, DOT Inpections, insurance, tires, these are just a few. Lot of hidden costs to contract with the USFS and you realy have to enjoy the work to do it over each year. Mark

  7. #7
    Forum Member
    Join Date
    Jan 2006

    Default Old Artical many changes now!

    Quote Originally Posted by TenderR6 View Post
    • $1.14 million to lease water tenders, trucks that bring water to the fire engines and can spray blazes. Some tenders leased by the state were relatively new, but others were as crude as a heavy-duty pickup with a metal tank bolted into the bed. A used water tender can be bought for around $45,000.

    Well I contract a Water Tender Type II 2500 gal and you don't get rich doing it! This will be my 4th year doing it and it is a lot of work to get ready and get approved to fight the fires with the USFS. One year I got out 9 days while spending the whole summer by the phone waiting. Another year 15 days so in 2 years that is 24 days and is not making a killing. I got 68 days in last year now that was a good year! That made up for 3 bad years so I could break even! Each year you hope to get called out because you spend over $3500.00 just to get the paper work done and that does not include your truck cost. If you break your truck you pay for it, if you need fuel you pay for it, if your pump fails you buy a new one and you also buy your cloths and Bendix King Radio. Fire Training, CDL Test, DOT Inpections, insurance, tires, these are just a few. Lot of hidden costs to contract with the USFS and you realy have to enjoy the work to do it over each year. Mark
    Just noticed the date on this artical and being it was wrote in 2004 there have been many changes to the contracting system since then! A long time ago you could get away with junk on the fires but it has to be a real large fire that all resourses have been used up to allow the junk to stay. Each year it gets harder and harder to get on with the USFS and your equipment better be good! Mark

  8. #8
    MembersZone Subscriber
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Southern California

    Cool Wow......

    It amazes me that an administrator is baulking at how costly it is to fight fires. Try this, don't fight them and see how much it cost you...... both financially and politically.

    I'd hate to see their eyes when they see the bill for some of our Complex Fires and really large fires here is Southern California. LOL
    "Be LOUD, Be PROUD..... It just might save your can someday when goin' through an intersection!!!!!"

    Life on the Truck (Quint) is good.....

    Eat til you're sleepy..... Sleep til you're hungry..... And repeat.....

  9. #9
    Forum Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2004


    You know the old saying about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Well for the most part the politicians still prefer to take their chances and end up paying for the 10 pounds of cure most years. They won't fund adequate initial attack forces so they end up paying for massive very expensive fires.

  10. #10
    Forum Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Foggy California


    up to $35 an hour to hire one out-of-state firefighter, even as close to 20,000 Montanans were unemployed.
    Too bad I suck at Photoshop...I'd love to cook up a quick GEICO Caveman-style ad graphic, only with a Davey Crockett-looking "Mountain Man":

    "Wildland Firefighting--so easy, even an unemployed Montanan can do it!"

    My opinions might coincide with someone of importance's POV... I wouldn't know, since I never bothered to ask. My policy is: "Don't ask, don't care."

    IACOJ--West Coast PITA

  11. #11
    WFF59903's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007


    It's too bad that the image will not appear on the forum board.

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