By Ron VandenBoom
Havre residents can rest a little easier New Year's Eve knowing that the Havre Fire Department is prepared for any eventuality.
A few extra precautions have already been taken by the department to insure that Dec. 31, 1999 will be nothing more than a normal operating day for the fire department.
Fire Chief Craig Ellingson said that instead of running the regular three or four man shift, he has arranged to have eight men at the fire department from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on New Year's Eve, and in the event they are needed, the remaining nine firefighters will be available for call.
Ellingson said he was not concerned about the dreaded Y2K "millennium computer bug," noting that the fire department does not depend on computers to do its job. But he did express concern that too much partying on the part of some individuals could lead to an increase in accident or injury calls.
Ellingson also expressed a concern that people who are anticipating some kind catastrophe to result from Y2K might be disappointed and try to make something happen.
The possibility that a city-wide power outage could occur on Jan. 1, or at any other time during the winter months, is something Havre's ad hoc Y2K committee has been addressing for months and, according to Ellingson, the fire department is also prepared for.
The main city complex containing the fire and police departments can be run by a back-up generator, Ellingson said, and the building will stay heated for a few hours after the power goes out.
If the power were out for more than a few hours, Ellingson said, they might have to drain the pumps on the fire trucks to keep them from freezing, but the 500-750 gallons of water in the trucks is not going to be a problem.
"There is just too much water in there," Ellingson said.
Additional water is also available from numerous sources that will not have a big impact on the water plant, he said, noting that the trucks have the capability of drafting water from the Milk River, ponds, or even the swimming pool, if need be.
"I don't see a big need for water," Ellingson said.
With the extra personnel Ellingson has arranged to have on duty New Year's Eve, the department will be able to respond to a structure fire and two ambulance calls at the same time if they need to.
Communications will also be maintained through the radios in the trucks and through hand-held radios, Ellingson said, and extra batteries have already been purchased as a precaution.
"These are normal things that we do at the fire department," Ellingson said. "We check our radios daily to make sure that they're working and the radios in the vehicles will be working."
All of the vehicles will also be fueled in preparation for New Year's Eve.
Ellingson said he has not felt the need for revamping any long-range planning because the department already goes through daily training and the vehicles and equipment are checked routinely.
Another concern that Ellingson said is unique to this New Year's Eve is the sale of fireworks.
The Montana Legislature has approved the sale of fireworks for Dec. 30-31 and as always the possibility that they might be used improperly puts people at risk.
Ellingson emphasized that although the legislature has approved their sale, the use of fireworks within the city limits is still illegal and the Havre Police Department will be enforcing the law.
The other concern is that residents will turn to alternative heat if the power does go out. Kerosene heaters, wood stoves, fire places, or other alternate heating sources can increase the danger of fire, Ellingson said.