There are four fire stations situated across Great Falls, but Great Falls Fire Rescue Chief Chief Jeremy Jones says it isn’t enough.
“The city of Great falls has almost doubled in size since the stations were built so there are two primary areas of town that we cannot get to in a timely manner,” says Fire Chief Jones, “that’s everywhere north of Riverview and Valleyview areas all the way to Eagle’s Crossing and everything south of 10th Avenue South through the 26th street medical corridor, out to 13th street into the east side of town.”
With the current number of stations, fire crews have been forced to stop responding to code one medical calls, which are non life-threatening emergencies. On top of a station shortage, there is also a staff shortage.
The staff shortages are further disrupting response times, even for stations which are nearby an occurring emergency.
“How we measure how effective we are as a fire department is based off time, and our measurement is four minutes. Right now we are not hitting that,” says Chief Jones. “Downtown we have a five minute and nine second response time, and that district hasn’t grown since 1970. District three is the worst district and it’s over a seven minute response time.”
The nearest station to downtown only a half-mile from downtown. In this sense, Great Falls fire department faces unique challenges. There aren’t enough stations to effectively serve the far-reaching community, and emergencies near stations are still experiencing delays due to lack of staff. These minutes slipping away can make the difference between life and death in many instances.
City Commissioners are listening and agree that something must be done.
“Our fire department is a key component to a public safety levy, if we were to do one,” says City Commissioner Eric Heinbauch, “that’s what we’re doing our homework on and researching right now.”
A public safety levy would be enacted to improve the shortcomings of the fire department if there is an interest expressed amongst the voters. This would be a one-time cost for citizens, which could prevent years of increased insurance premiums due to diminished public fire safety.
“This would cost the citizens of Great falls more on insurance premiums and any property insurance, or we invest in the infrastructure, and we’re able to keep that cost under control,” says Heinbauch.
The timeline could be a long one, but the city and fire chief both hope to move forward on station developments in the coming years.
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