History

BSFD History in Brief

big sky firefighter up in a ladder with trees surrounding him
big sky heli flight assisting person into helicopter

Big Sky was a very rural and rugged area before commercial and residential development arrived.  Local residents were few but hardy and for the most part had taken care of themselves since this area was originally settled.  In 1971, community members formed what became the Gallatin Canyon Volunteer Fire Department.  Funding was scarce and their equipment was either donated or purchased used from other departments with money raised locally by department members.

In 1979, two Gallatin Canyon Rural Fire Districts were formed; one for the Gallatin County portion of Big Sky and the other for the Madison County portion.  While being separate governmental entities, the district was operated as if it was one and the regular funding from property mill levies helped to better support department operations.  When it was later found that running the two districts together as one was actually improper, formal action was taken in 1994 to create the single Gallatin Canyon Consolidated Rural Fire District that spread across both counties.

In 1986, the McBride Family donated land in Westfork Meadows for the current Fire Station 1 to be built.  Local tradesman performed much of the station construction and the station has had several additions since that time to accommodate growth.  This allowed the department to move from a smaller building that was converted to a home nearby.

Emergency medical services originally came by way of a private ambulance service from Bozeman, so it would be a long wait for help to arrive.  An attempt to address this was made in 1986, when a full time Emergency Medical Technician was hired.  Unfortunately, this person only remained only 5 months and for the next 7 years, volunteers continued to be the sole source of manpower.

With the formation of what was later to be known as the Big Sky Resort Area District (BSRAD) in 1992, better funding became available to strengthen operations.  It was decided to create an ambulance service and in 1993, the Gallatin Canyon Volunteer Fire Department hired Robert Stober, a retired St. Paul, Minnesota Fire Department battalion chief, to be the first paramedic.  By 1994, Stober became the first paid fire chief of GCVFD.

In 1997, Fire Station 2 was constructed on land donated by Boyne USA across Highway 64 from Big Sky Resort so that there was better fire department coverage on the mountain.

Upon the retirement of Chief Stober in 2003, Chief Jason Revisky took the helm and continued the guide the department’s two shifts of career members, who worked in Station 1 during the daytime hours and responded from their homes at night, supported by volunteer members throughout.  To better reflect the community that was being served, the Gallatin Canyon Consolidated Rural Fire District was renamed the Big Sky Fire Department in 2009..

This was also during one of the most impressive growth periods in Big Sky and the department’s emergency incident volume jumped drastically. Over time, the number of community members available for volunteering with the department declined as pressures from the incident volume grew.  This necessitated the slow addition of more career members in order to provide adequate services.

A 2005 study of the department’s operations recommended that at least 4 Firefighter/EMTs or Firefighter/Paramedics should be on duty in Fire Station 1 at any given time with the ultimate goal of 7 people per shift due to the anticipated growth.  In 2008, BSFD sought to increase its operating mill levy for the first time, hoping to hire enough career members to meet the needs outlined in the study.  Voters did not approve the request and BSFD continued to work diligently for the community while searching for a solution to this problem.

BSFD Since 2011

In early 2011, Chief Revisky resigned and for the first time in its history, the department brought in leadership from outside of the organization.  After utilizing a consulting firm to assist with the search process, William Farhat was appointed the 9th Fire Chief of BSFD in September of 2011.

One month later, BSFD moved to have three shifts of 3 career Firefighters on duty in Station 1 at all times, along with the Fire Chief and the Administrative Assistant.  This drastically reduced the amount of time it took for a BSFD unit to be responding to a call, but there were still usually only two career members on duty and a dwindling number of volunteers, who were responding to less than 5% of the incidents.  This led to periods where there would be emergency incidents with a dangerously low amount of responders or no response from BSFD at all.

In 2012, BSFD again approached the community with a request for a mill levy increase.  The goal was to add 5 additional career members to improve the safety of department operations and improve service delivery.  This would not only increase the number of people on duty; it would also lead to a larger amount of people off duty career members who lived in the community and could respond during emergencies.  This mill levy was approved and 5 Firefighter/EMTs and 1 Firefighter/Paramedic were hired (one of these positions was to fill an existing vacancy) in 2013.

Also in 2013, the department began to compensate the volunteer members, making them on-call employees.  While not increasing the number of on-call employees, it helped those who sacrificed their personal time to serve our community so they were not financially burdened for their efforts.

In 2015, the department was able to demonstrate to the BSRAD how the growth in development had been overwhelming the Fire Chief and Office Administrator’s positions with land use permits, pre-construction safety reviews, subdivision and final plat reviews as well as numerous requests for information and consultation.   In response, BSRAD approved the funding of a Deputy Fire Chief of Operations position, which was tasked with overseeing operations and training, freeing the Fire Chief to fulfill his other responsibilities.

In 2016, the department was able to find internal funding to hire a 15th career Firefighter and a part-time Administrative Assistant.  Also in 2016, a master planning process was completed with the assistance of Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI).  It identified that there were several opportunities for improvement in regards to response times and adequate staffing for emergency incidents.  The Board of Trustees formally adopted the master plan in order to address current issues and prepare for future needs of the Big Sky community.

From this master plan, a comprehensive strategic plan was developed for both operational and fire station improvements.  For operations, the strategic plan added 9 career Firefighters, 3 Battalion Chiefs, a Deputy Chief of Community Risk Management and a Deputy Fire Marshal.  With the assistance of BSRAD and funding from a Federal Emergency Management Agency Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant, the 3 Battalion Chief positions were added in 2017 and along with a dedicated Training Captain position.

Also in 2017, BSFD placed a mill levy request before voters to not only fund the strategic plan’s remaining positions but to also remodel Fire Station 1 and creating sleeping facilities in Fire Station 2 so that it could have 24 hour staffing for the first time.  This mill levy increase was approved and in 2018, the fire station remodeling projects commenced along with the first phase of hiring, which will consist of 3 Firefighters and the Deputy Chief of Community Risk Management. 

Later hiring phases will bring the total operational career staff to 9 per shift, which will be operating from both fire stations.  The administrative staff would include 7 employees, for a total of 34 career members along with our on-call staff.