The Blaine County Journal News-Opinion - We've Got The County Covered

"New" fire truck delivered to Blaine County for rural fire protection


September 12, 2018

Don Pyrah, DNRC Lewistown; Scott Gallus, Chinook Fire Department; Eric Pallas, DNRC Missoula; Kraig Hansen, Blaine County Fire Warden; and Blaine County Commissioners Frank DePriest and Tom Fairbank pose beside a Type II Water Tender delivered in early September to Blaine County. The truck was transferred to Montana DNRC through a Department of Defense surplus property program and reconfigured from a semi-tractor to a water tender by the DNRC shop in Missoula. Designated for wildfire suppression, the new unit will be housed at the Chinook Fire Hall.

Two Montana Department of Natural Resources (DNRC) employees recently delivered a rebuilt 2008 Freightliner Type II Water Tender to the Blaine County Shop in Chinook. The fire fighting equipment is part of a joint program between the Montana DNRC and the U.S. Department of Defense's Fire Fighter Property Program. The new piece of equipment will be housed at the Chinook Fire Hall.

Don Pyrah, Fire Program Manager for the NE Land Office (Lewistown) of the Montana DNRC, accompanied the new truck to Chinook. Pyrah was last in Blaine County to deliver a new rural fire protection truck in 2014. The new truck at that time was part of the Montana County Co-op program. That program was begun to provide training and upgraded equipment to county fire departments around Montana after a series of devastating wildfires in the early 2000's.

Pyrah said, "This water tender was provided under a different program that transfers surplus military equipment to states for use to fight rural wildfires. Most of this equipment has low mileage and vehicles are fairly easy to access through the program." Eric Pallas, an Equipment Technician from the DNRC's Missoula fire equipment development office, described the process the DNRC's shop went through to create what for all practical purposes is a brand new vehicle.

Pallas said, "The truck was used by the military originally to pull semi-trailers. He explained the process where they truck was stripped of its original 'pulling equipment,' the chassis was repainted, wildfire suppression equipment was added, then the entire truck repainted and reassembled. Pallas said the program to reconfigure the surplus military equipment began about three years ago. About two or three of the vehicles can be refitted each year for distribution around the state.

Kraig Hansen, Chinook's Fire Chief and Fire Warden for Blaine County, said the new equipment will be used mainly as a "tactical tender, assisting smaller trucks on the initial attack of a wildfire." Pointing out the front and rear spray bars on the new tender, Hansen explained, "This truck can lay down fire suppression by driving along the edge of a wildfire. Where the terrain is too severe for laying down water, the truck becomes a tender providing water to the smaller, more mobile units fighting a wildfire in severe topography."

Hansen added the truck will help where inadequate numbers of firefighters are available on a wildfire. He noted, "This truck, with one operator, can lay down a lot of water along the edges of an advancing wildfire. The new tender can do the work of several smaller trucks under the right conditions."

County Commissioners Frank DePriest and Tom Fairbank were on hand to receive the new truck on behalf of Blaine County. Pyrah explained, "The DNRC makes a cooperative agreement with the county that is receiving the new equipment. The county decides where the new units will be housed and how it will be used."

Earlier Pyrah explained the relationship between the DNRC and counties noting, "Under the Montana Code the initial attack on wildfires for all state and private lands is the responsibility of the country fire departments. State fire fighters are called in only at the request of the local fire departments. Pyrah added "it was to everyone's advantage to get better equipment to the people who would be fighting them initially."

But it's not all about hardware. Pyrah and other DNRC fire trainers have been in Blaine and adjacent counties several times during the past year doing training for both volunteer firefighters and other rural residents who may become involved with fighting a wildfire. Pyrah said when the legislature started the original Co-op program it also provided funding to better train volunteer firefighters as well as provide them better firefighting equipment.

Hansen, Blaine County Fire Warden, said "our county couldn't provide the level of protection we have without the help of these federal surplus and state programs to provide training and upgraded equipment. Having good equipment and well trained fire fighters is critical to getting a wildfire under control."


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