Today’s fire service is responding to less and less actual structure fires but the ones we do respond to are burning faster and hotter than ever, making it more important to respond promptly with the appropriate resources. Smoke & fire alarms help notify the fire department before a fire grows to the point its visible from outside the structure. Fire sprinkler systems help to slow a fire’s growth until the fire department arrives. However, after fire prevention the number one factor in lessening the damage from a fire is a rapid response by adequate fire department resources.
Hazardous materials can be found in every community, in almost every home, hospital, school, and business. Hazardous materials are shipped every day within our response area by cars, trucks, pipelines, and rail.
Most hazardous materials incidents are small and with proper care are handled by the fire department with appropriate local assistance. CO alarms, wires down, gas leaks, and small fuel spills are typical examples.
For households properly disposing of hazardous materials can be done at the County’s land fill. The Flathead County Solid Waste District holds a Household Waste Collection day on the 3rd Saturday of every month. https://flathead.mt.gov/waste/downloads.php
For larger hazmat incidents in Montana, local government has the primary responsibility for the mitigation of a hazardous materials emergency. In Whitefish, that responsibility falls to the fire department. As the LERA (Local Emergency Response Agency) if the incident is beyond our capabilities, we are responsible to:
- Establish Incident Command.
- Secure the scene & establish protective measures.
- Notify the State of Montana’s DES Duty Officer.
- Interface with one of the State’s Regional Hazmat Teams.
- Establish DECON (decontamination for any victims or the entry teams).
- Provide an ALS ambulance on scene.
The State’s hazmat plan can be found at:
The apparatus, equipment, and PPE needed for a hazmat response is as varied as the material(s) encountered. Product identification is key to establishing proper safety zones and selecting appropriate PPE.
Here in Whitefish we can call on:
- Kalispell Fire Department which provides one of the State’s Regional Hazmat Teams.
- We can request assistance from the National Guard’s 83rd Civil Support Team out of Helena, Montana.
- BNSF also has hazmat responders plus contracts with local agencies which we can call upon for assistance.
In the fire service, rescue entails freeing or delivering a person from confinement, danger, or difficulty. There are several rescue situations the Whitefish Fire Department trains and plans for included but not limited to:
- Structural Fire search and rescue
- Vehicle extrication
- Rope Rescue
- Water rescue
- Ice rescue
- Confined Space Rescue
- Trench Rescue
- Collapse Rescue
The apparatus, equipment, and PPE required are as diverse as the situations encountered. Many of these situations also require emergency medical assistance.