Fighting fires on a shoestring


A new donation will make a world of difference for a rural fire department struggling to meet expenses.

The Kremlin Volunteer Fire Department, a 21-member-strong outfit, has been swamped with insurance, utility and workers' compensation payments, Fire Chief Barry Donoven said Monday, leaving little funding to purchase new equipment.

The extra cash will be a huge boost for a department that receives only $4,000 annually through taxes, Donoven said.

The $1,250 donation from Stockman Bank will help alleviate some of the budget crunch and fund new radios and possibly an addition to the department's fire hall, Donoven said.

"Workman's comp and insurance has taken up about two-thirds of our budget," Donoven said. "We can barely afford to pay the lights and heat for the (Kremlin Fire Hall) during the winter."

Donoven said that despite the department's reliance on volunteers, state laws require it to pay insurance and have a workers' compensation fund. The payments undermine the department's ability to buy things like breathing masks and fire extinguishers, as well as maintain its three firetrucks, he said.

The firefighters hold an annual fund-raiser to help generate extra cash, and many of the unpaid volunteers support the department from their own pockets, Donoven said. It took the 21-member team 10 years to save enough money to purchase a new firetruck, he added.

The bank first became aware of the department's financial woes about three weeks ago, said Chuck Wimmer, vice president/branch manager of Stockman Bank in Havre. Wimmer had a conversation with Kremlin Fire Department president Norm Dyrland, who mentioned some of the department's needs, Wimmer said.

"The conversation was progressing, and I mentioned that Stockman might have some money available to help them," he said.

Stockman Bank has a program that offers charitable donations to nonprofit organizations in the communities the bank serves, Wimmer said. The bank also has made donations to Havre Youth Baseball and a park at Northern Montana Hospital.

Wimmer approached a committee at the bank's headquarters in Miles City about making a donation to the volunteer fire department, and the suggestion was approved, he said.

"We thought it was a worthwhile organization," he said. "These small fire departments are really important to this area. We have a lot of wildfires out here and these people take care of them. We thought it would be good for the community if we could help them out. The money should help them pay for some of their communications gear, trucks and other equipment."

The department would like to install a radio in the oldest of the department's three trucks, and purchase a base radio for the fire hall, Dyrland said.

The radios would help the department speed its response times and increase the level of safety for fire crews, Dyrland said.

The base radio would notify firefighters of a blaze more quickly, he said, because many of them could access the emergency fire channel on their FM radios. Presently, a dispatcher must go through a phone list and call each of the 21 people on the team to inform them of a blaze, he said.

The department also would like to install another radio in a grass-fire truck. The department has three firetrucks - two that are equipped for grass fires and one for structure fires.

Of the two grass-fire trucks, only the newer one has a radio. Installing one in the older truck - vintage 1957 - is a matter of safety, Dyrland said.

"There's times you get to a fire and the handheld radios don't work," he said. "If we had one in the truck, we could communicate with other units and attack the fire from the best angle."

The department would like to build an addition to its fire hall, which barely has enough room for two of the trucks. The third, and oldest, sits outside.

The money from Stockman Bank should help bolster the department's operating budget, department treasurer Kevin Springer said. Last year the department received $4,083 in taxes and had expenditures of $5,635, he said.

The department - the largest volunteer fire district in Hill County - seeks money from other sources. Firefighters hold an annual turkey feed at Blackie's Tavern, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has donated a number of fire extinguishers that the department sells to help raise money.


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