Havre Daily News
Firefighters from across Montana were in Havre last week for the 116th annual convention of the Montana State Firemen's Association.
About 35 firefighters came to town for the three-day convention, which ended Friday, and they discussed a number of issues related to their jobs: the 2005 legislative session, retirement, medical plans and life insurance.
They also elected new officers. Havre fire engineer Jack Threthewey was picked to serve on the pension advisory board, and Havre fire engineer and state Rep. Bob Bergren is a member of the board of directors.
Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson, who was a Havre firefighter for 23 years and served as the association's president for nine years, was presented with the honorary title of president emeritus at the close of the convention Friday evening. Anderson said today that, as far as he knows, he is the only person named to the position in the association's history. Three other people hold emeritus titles in the association.
"It's the greatest honor they could have given me," he said. "It really is a very select group."
The group also met with a number of state legislators and government officials.
"We're very politically active," president and Bozeman fire Capt. Kurt Bushnell said. "We work real hard on fostering relationships with those people who make decisions regarding policies or fire-related issues."
The firefighters heard speeches from state Senate President Jon Tester, D-Big Sandy, and State Auditor John Morrison, who are two of the Democratic candidates trying to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns in the 2006 election. State Rep. Monica Lindeen, D-Huntley, who is running against U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, also attended the convention, along with state Sen. Ken Hansen, D-Harlem, and Bergren.
The MSFA tried to get three measures pushed through this year's legislative session. A successful bill changes the way retirement contributions are calculated, secretary/treasurer Rick Ryan said. Ryan is a Butte fire captain.
Montana firefighters work with a 20-year plan, which allows them to retire with 50 percent of their pay. Under an old law, the most recent 36 months of firefighters' careers were used to determine the contribution to the pension plan, based on their pay over that period. Legislators approved a bill that changes that rule to the highest-paying 36 months. That helps firefighters who move to smaller departments to take higher positions, such as chief, but receive less pay, Ryan said.
Montana firefighters face unique challenges, Bushnell said. The state is the fourth largest but has a population of less than 1 million. That means emergency personnel have to fight urban fires and also cross long distances to reach forest or brush fires. Urban fire departments work closely with rural departments, Bushnell said.
Bushnell also said smaller cities like Havre work hard to organize such conventions, and the businesses are always very supportive. While the firefighters attended meetings during the day, their families enjoyed some of Havre's amenities, such as Havre Beneath the Streets and Fresno Reservoir, he said.
The last time the MSFA convention was held in Havre was in 1996, Bushnell said. This year was particularly special because the Havre Fire Department is celebrating its centennial, he said.