Two Retirements and a Promotion at Chinook Fire Department

 

February 15, 2023

Kraig Hansen, Scott Gallus and Preston Gilmore pose in front of the Chinook Fire Department's Command Vehicle put in to service in March, 2022. Kraig has retired, after 20 years, as the Fire Chief for the Chinook Department. Scott Gallus, currently an Assistant Chief, will be the new Chinook Fire Chief effective mid-February. Preston Gilmore retired with 20 years of service from the department last October. He most recently served as an Assistant Chief.

Kraig Hansen retired as Fire Chief for the City of Chinook and Blaine County Fire Department on January 31, 2023. Hansen served for 20 years as Chief of the Chinook department and was Chief in Harlem for 13 years before joining the Chinook organization. His retirement capped a 47 year career as a volunteer firefighter. He will continue as Fire Warden for Blaine County.

Early in October, 2022, Preston Gilmore retired after 20 years with the department. For "about the last four years" Gilmore was an Assistant Chief. He shared that his connection to firefighting began more than 20 years ago when a firetruck for fighting wildfires was first stationed on his family's ranch. He said "I will still help out around the department when I can."

Scott Gallus will soon be taking over as the new Chief of the Chinook Fire Department. He first joined the department 30 years ago and worked through various positions. For the past 10 years Scott has served as an Assistant Chief at the Chinook department. His appointment to Chief will be made official later this month.

The three colleagues represent nearly a century of experience as firefighters (97 years to be exact). A few days ago we sat together and they told about their experiences as firefighters. It's hard to summarize nearly a century of service but here are some highlights of the firefighting careers they shared.

All three experienced both challenges and rewards as volunteer firefighters

Kraig Hansen said some challenges volunteer firefighters face are the conflicts among the demands of being a volunteer firefighter, spending time with family and holding down a job. He shared several stories about interrupted family gatherings and disturbed nights of sleep to answer fire calls. He added, "In one recent year we recruited five new firefighters. Four of them ended up leaving the area to follow career opportunities and we lost them as volunteers." Demands of families and careers often conflict with volunteers' roles as firefighters.

Scott Gallus explained how the challenges can affect volunteer fire departments. He said, "The Chinook department is authorized for a roster of 28 firefighters. We currently have 13 firefighters and two reserves. That's the lowest number of active firefighters I've seen during my thirty years with the department." He said the shortfall of personnel is a common problem among many volunteer fire departments. The highest number of firefighters Scott saw with the department was 26 some time ago.

As to rewards of being a firefighter Preston Gilmore said he liked helping people, "everything from rescuing people trapped in vehicle wrecks to saving property." He related "one of the most satisfying results from my work as a firefighter had to do with teaching fire prevention techniques to kids at the Meadowlark Elementary School." He explained the firefighters would "smoke up the Scout Hut by the Chinook swim pool" and demonstrate the importance of shutting doors to rooms during a house fire." Later the house of a student who participated in the fire prevention class caught fire. Gilmore said, "The youngster remembered to close the doors in the house saving the family pets and allowing escape from the burning house. That was a great feeling that we helped that student know what to do."

Kraig Hansen and Scott Gallus both mentioned being a part of the "firefighters' brotherhood" as a great benefit of being a volunteer firefighter. Hansen related several stories about his or family's vehicle breakdowns away from home and a call to the local fire chief, that he knew through "professional networking," saved the day. Hansen was active in several statewide firefighters' organizations through the years. He was state president of the Montana State Volunteer Firefighters Association and served on other boards and committees of professional groups. Scott Gallus likened being a part of a volunteer fire department to "having a second family. Volunteer firefighters rely on each other in life threatening situations. They become very close."

Some "memorable events" while serving as firefighters

I asked the three to share some of the more memorable fires, rescues or disasters they recalled during their careers as firefighters. Both Preston and Kraig mentioned the "flood of 1986." Kraig was Harlem's Fire Chief during the flood and told about the drowning of a woman from Turner during the flood. Her husband was dramatically rescued by firefighters from a tree he managed to grab when the vehicle they were in was swept off the road near the North Harlem Colony. Preston recalled, "The North Fork Creek up in our part of the county looked like the Missouri River as the flood water from the heavy rain surged south."

In November, 1992 two C-141 cargo planes on a refueling training exercise collided near Harlem, killing the 13 airmen on board the two planes. Kraig Hansen was the Fire Chief in Harlem during that disaster. At a recent anniversary memorial held at the Blaine County Library Kraig and Darwin Zellmer talked about the crash and how it affected people in Harlem and the area. The emotion was so raw in the retelling of the story that both men were still moved emotionally.

Scott initially said, "I guess I haven't really experienced the type of event Kraig and Preston just described." All three were a part of the more recent 2017 East Fork fire that burned south in Blaine and Hill Counties. After more thought Scott admitted that fire really was a significant event in his firefighting career.

Looking to the future

Despite the current discouraging number of firefighters in the Chinook Fire Department Kraig Hansen said, "I think the numbers will eventually get back to normal." He explained how pay incentives and the pension plan help to attract volunteers. He also described how the local fire department is involving the spouses and partners of new volunteers noting "Upfront helping those close to future firefighters understand the commitment that will be needed seems to reduce the number of volunteers who drop out early in the process."

Members of the Chinook department will host a 'retirement/new chief' celebration for the three on Saturday, April 8. Watch for details about the party. To learn more about becoming a volunteer firefighter with the Chinook Fire Department call new Chief Scott Gallus at 406-262-2765 or speak to any current firefighter with the department.

 
 

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