The Fire Department Administration is staffed by four (4) members. The primary focus is department training, safety, fiscal responsibility, civic engagement, and City policy as it relates to fire code.
Training and Safety
We are committed to provide and maintain training curriculum pertinent to current fire related standards that maximize personnel safety. We strive to provide opportunities to individuals to maintain their skills and knowledge by providing avenues to attend emergency responder edifying conferences, the National Fire Academy and other outside organizations whilst being good stewards of our training budget. We have created a coalition with training entities throughout the local area and the State of Montana that enable us to provide specialized training to our department and surrounding mutual aid responders. We accomplish these goals and vision with respect, honesty and integrity.
The Helena Fire Department strives to maintain a balanced budget, fiscal responsibility and manage general, grant and special contract funds in a way that best serves the community, aids in our response times and ensures we can be adequately prepared for the many types of incidents facing the Helena area.
We believe a good rule of thumb is to always consider the following principal fiscal responsibilities when appraising an expenditure; assurance of appropriateness, reasonableness, timeliness and allowability of an expenditure. Fiscal controls include a system of supervisor checks and balances, at all levels of the organization, for all expenditures. Management of expenditures within start and end dates, not to exceed award amounts. Preparation of budgetary and financial reports that are reviewed on a monthly basis.
The Fire Prevention Bureau is staffed by three (3) members. The primary focus is fire safety throughout our city through education and application of the fire code.
We provide fire and life-safety instruction for all ages. The majority of our public education programs consist of the following:
Fire Prevention Week activities. We educate over 800 second grade students throughout Helena and the surrounding community each year about being fire safe and what actions to take when a fire occurs. We reinforce the initial instruction through follow-up visits and quarterly student fire safety newspapers. An open house is also held each October in which all ages are invited to learn about fire safety and fire department operations.
Hotel/Motel Safety Classes. This instruction is provided to teach employees and management how to prevent fires and the necessary actions to take if a fire occurs. This may include safety inspections and practices, fire suppression and detection system familiarization, and evacuation planning.
Food Service Safety Classes. Instruction is given to anyone concerned with kitchen fire safety. It is most commonly given to people who work in large kitchens, such as at restaurants and those who cater for large functions. Students are instructed how to prevent and control kitchen and cooking related fires.
Fire Extinguisher Classes. This instruction is given to a wide variety of companies, businesses, and social groups. Instruction includes identifying the various types of fires, when to combat fires, how to safely use extinguishers, and various fire and life-safety techniques and practices. Participants may elect to demonstrate their knowledge by putting out a small gasoline fire with an extinguisher.
The Helena Fire Department currently enforces the 2012 Edition of the International Fire Code. We also have fire related ordinances in Title 3, Chapter 9, of the Helena City Code and Montana Code Annotated. These codes are applied during construction plan reviews and inspections of existing buildings.
Plan Review. General building construction plans are reviewed for items such as: emergency access; water supplies, fire hydrants, as well as compliance with special hazards and processes. Fire detection and suppression systems are reviewed by Fire Safety Consultants Incorporated (FSCI), who you can contact for submission information, details and pricing.
Inspections. Inspections are conducted in all existing public and commercial properties within the City of Helena to keep our visitors and citizens safe. When safety issues are discovered, we work with the building owners or managers to correct the issues in a timely manner.
We investigate the origin, cause, and circumstances, of many fires. In arson related cases, we may also include such agencies as the Helena Police Department, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, County Attorney’s Office, State Fire Marshal's Office, and other criminal justice agencies.
The Fire Prevention Bureau also handles a wide variety of complaints from concerned citizens, issue permits for hazardous activities, and administers a key lock box system throughout the community that enables our fire crews to enter buildings in an efficient manner.
We enjoy our chosen profession and are dedicated to the prevention of fires and ensuring public safety.
The primary purpose of a fire department and the core reason for its existence is to fight fire. At the Helena Fire Department, this core work is carried out primarily by the thirty-six (36) members of the Suppression Division. The members are organized into three shifts of twelve persons each. These shifts work 24 hours on, 48 hours off in what is called the 24/48 schedule. The 3-shift rotation ensures the City of Helena is protected 24/7/365 and the staff is properly rested and ready for any emergency. When vacations and days off are factored in, the net result is a nine-person initial fire response originating out of two stations. To compensate for the small initial attack force, the Suppression Division relies on early notification, rapid response and aggressive interior attack to suppress fires before they can increase too drastically in size. These tactics have been successful, with most structure fires in Helena being held to “room and contents” and occasionally to “building of origin” in size.
In those instances where the above tactics are unsuccessful, Admin personnel and off-duty members are called back to work using a paging system to create a larger suppression force. Additionally, we make requests for assistance of our mutual aid neighbors on larger incidents. In most cases, the fire has gone undetected for a long period of time. These usually become defensive fires requiring the application of large amounts of water from master stream devices capable of delivering hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water a minute. Fortunately, fires of such magnitude are rare.
The Suppression Division also uses state-of-the-art technology to augment their aggressive initial fire attack: including 1) the most up-to-date personal protective equipment, 2) thermal imaging cameras (revealing fire hot-spots), 3) compressed air foam systems (CAFS) and 4) mobile data terminals (MDTs) which will allow on-scene commanders to access information pertinent to the incident. Even with all these technological advances, most actual firefighting is still carried out using brute, manual labor to search out and extinguish fires. A physically fit, appropriately trained and equipped, rapidly deployed, sufficiently sized workforce is still the key to successful fire suppression.
Not all fires occur in structures and Helena, with its vast urban/wildland interface border, has great potential to be threatened by wildfire. The Suppression Division has two specially equipped wildland firefighting vehicles to counter that threat. These are smaller (F-550) trucks with slide-out pump assemblies specifically designed to be more agile and mobile for the wildland environment. The Division personnel are equipped with wildland personal protective equipment and the wildland vehicles carry equipment and tools more appropriate for wildland firefighting. During wildland fire season all arbitrary borders are erased. Any report of smoke anywhere in the urban/wildland interface generates an immediate notification and response from Helena Fire, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) and the appropriate Jefferson County and/or Lewis and Clark County fire departments. In recent years, such immediate and over-whelming response has prevented many very serious fires from becoming catastrophic.
Emergency Medical Services
The Helena Fire Department is proud to provide an exceptional level of Emergency Medical care to the citizens of Helena, Montana. Consistent with trends throughout the United States, medically related emergencies comprise over 70% of the annual responses the department encounters.
The Helena Fire Department is currently licensed by the State of Montana at the Advanced Life Support "EMT-Intermediate" level. Functions such as early Defibrillation, Endo-Tracheal Intubations and Intravenous Therapy help bring procedures once reserved for the emergency room to the patient in a more expedient manner. The Emergency Medical Technicians of the Helena Fire Department have dedicated much time and put forth a great personal effort to provide the best possible medical care to those in need.
One of the frequent comments we hear from our customers is: "I called for an ambulance, not a fire truck". The Helena Fire Department operates in a tiered response system with St. Peter's Hospital Ambulance service. When an individual has a medical emergency, both agencies get dispatched through the 911 system at the same time. This type of system has proven very effective in delivering the very best patient care to our customers. It has also created a strong bond between both agencies allowing a systematic team approach to handling emergencies.
The City of Helena has many facilities using and producing hazardous materials. It also has all major modes of transportation by which hazardous materials are transported, including an airport, interstate highway traffic, railroad, and several miles of transportation routes within the city.
The Helena Fire Department, having the primary responsibility for response to hazardous materials incidents in the City of Helena and the greater Helena area, prepares for responding to incidents of this nature by establishing a Hazardous Materials Response Team with a minimum of 14 members trained to the “Technician” level, meeting or exceeding OSHA’s training requirements.
This team became an integral part of the State of Montana’s hazardous materials response efforts. Through agreements, the HazMat Team became one of six “regional” teams that provide hazardous materials emergency response to all counties in the State of Montana. The other regional teams across the state are in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls, Kalispell, and Missoula. The State of Montana Legislature had authorized funding to sustain the interoperability efforts of the six regional teams, coordinate response with entities outside their local government jurisdiction, and for the maintenance and update of assigned state equipment used in hazardous materials response. This funding was passed through the State of Montana Department of Military Affairs, Disaster and Emergency Services Division to each of the six teams but was discontinued in 2018. These six regional teams now rely on grant and local municipals funding to maintain identical Hazardous Materials Response Trailers, equipment, hold regular meetings and conduct joint training exercises.
The Helena Fire department has a Technical Rescue Team that has grown from a single discipline. For many years HFD has supported a Confined Space Rescue Team in response to a community need. Over time, the need for mission expansion and adding training pertaining to High Angle Rope Rescue, Collapse Rescue, and Trench Rescue has become apparent. The department took the necessary steps to train in these additional disciplines and now has a 14-member team for these special circumstances.
The Helena Fire Department is part of the Lewis and Clark Rural Fire Council and actively participates in local mutual aid. Currently, several local fire departments are on specific run cards for a multitude of potential needs. The most utilized run card for the Helena Fire Department is the First Alarm run card most often use for structure fires. This alarm brings firefighting staff and apparatus from four neighboring fire service organizations to assist with the incident. There are also many other run cards that specifically apply to other incident types such as wildland fires, commercial fires, and larger medical incidents. The Helena Fire Department also gives mutual aid to neighboring agencies for all incident types when requested.