By Tim Leeds
Havre and most of north-central Montana will have to rely on the services of the Great Falls deputy fire marshal as Bob Nieuwenhuyse looks for a new line of work.
Nieuwenhuyse, deputy fire marshal at the Havre office for nearly 20 years, took early retirement when the Havre office was one of three closed due to state budget cuts.
"I had planned to work for five more years," Nieuwenhuyse said today.
The offices in Sidney and Sheridan also were closed, with their coverage areas absorbed by other offices.
The primary duty of the office, part of the state Fire Prevention and Investigation Bureau, is to investigate and determine the cause of fires at the request of local fire departments or law enforcement agencies, he said. The secondary duty is to provide fire safety inspections. The marshal also provides education to fire service and law enforcement personnel, mainly in the area of arson inspection and fire safety and prevention.
The north-central portion of the 10 counties the Havre office covered will shift to Dick Swingley, deputy state fire marshal at the Great Falls office.
"He'll be busy," said Tim Ranes, assistant fire chief in Havre.
Ranes said the Havre office didn't only used Nieuwenhuyse's services a couple of times each year. The office's closing probably will be more of a problem for smaller communities with volunteer fire departments, he said.
"We really don't deal with (the fire marshal) all that much. We investigate our own fires," he said. "As far as we're concerned, it's not a major problem."
Nieuwenhuyse's job kept him busy. During the 20 years he was deputy fire marshal, he investigated 239 structure fires, 40 vehicle fires and 31 wildland fires, as well as conducting inspections and classes.
The fire marshal offices in Billings and Kalispell will pick up parts of the area formerly covered by the Havre office. The region included Glacier, Toole, Liberty, Hill, Blaine, Phillips, Valley, Fergus, Petroleum and Chouteau counties.
David Taylor, fire chief of the Chinook Volunteer Fire Department, said the loss of the Havre office will cause a problem.
"We need a service like that and it is a big problem for me," he said.
Blaine County hasn't had many arson fires, Taylor said, but if investigation is needed, the faster it starts the better.
"We like to get them here fast. While it's still burning if possible," he said.
Inspections for fire safety is another problem, he added. People have already contacted him to do inspections, and he doesn't know the entire procedure, Taylor said.
The loss of Nieuwenhuyse's inspections and fire prevention work will hurt, Taylor said.
"Prevention is what we'd rather see," he said.
Larry Horinek, who has been on the volunteer fire department in Hingham for about 20 years, said the change probably won't hurt Hingham much.
"I hate to say it won't have any impact. I don't see where it will have any major impact," he said.
Hingham hasn't had many structure fires in the time he has been on the fire department, Horinek said. The fires they have investigated have had causes that were pretty easy to determine, he said.
"It's not like an overwhelming need," he said.
Nieuwenhuyse said it will have an impact when it's needed, however.
"Obviously, there will be a substantial delay in response to fire investigation requests and reduced ability to service local fire departments," he said.
Taylor said he doesn't think the Havre office is one that should have been cut.
"I don't think it was a position that needed to be eliminated. It was much needed," he said.
The Havre office closed July 31 as a result of state budget cuts.
Swingley and state fire marshal Terry Phillips could not be reached for comment today.