RED LODGE - It’s been a year since a Red Lodge firefighter, Dan Steffensen, was welcomed back home to Montana after being severely burned while fighting a wildfire.
And now he’s using his brush with death to help advocate for other volunteer firefighters.
“We never think we are going to get burned over, never,” said Steffensen. “It was the last thing I ever thought.”
It was back in July of 2021 that he was badly burned while battling the Harris Fire. The winds shifted and a wall of fire came toward Steffensen. He was severely burned and spent months recovering at a hospital in Utah.
But Steffensen fought for his life and a year later he’s made an unbelievable recovery and continues to heal every day.
“It's just being at home is amazing,” he said. “And my family has been amazing.”
Steffensen credits his firefighter turnout gear for saving his life but unfortunately knows firsthand how many volunteers go seasons without proper protection.
So, he’s on a mission to help change that.
New calendars are now on sale to benefit Yellowstone County volunteer firefighters, and Steffensen is even featured in a new commercial produced by students at MSU Billings.
“The more I hear Dan's story, the more I admire him,” said AJ Otjen. "The first time I heard it, I cried.”
Otjen is a marketing professor at MSU Billings and helped her students create the marketing campaign surrounding the calendars.
She says every year the students come up with a great ad campaign as a part of the curriculum, which turns out to be an opportunity to bolster their resumes and graduate with valuable experience.
This year it’s the calendars, a first of a kind.
“Those guys who will do anything to protect us,” she said. “And for $20, all the money goes to a great cause.”
Montana volunteer firefighters spend a lot of their own money gearing up for the job, with a pair of boots alone costing as much as $600.
"Sixty-five percent of Yellowstone County is volunteer firefighters,” said Steffensen. “If I hadn’t had this particular PPE on, I wouldn't be here.”
Steffensen’s equipment saved his life, and every time he looks at the torn and charred remains of it, he knows that.
And he says sometimes the tough reality is that volunteers are heading out to fires and fighting them without the proper gear.
“Every year you try to get guys geared up, but you might have five guys that… well, they have to share a shirt,” he said.
Otjen says that just cannot happen, and she hopes the calendars will help.
“We all call on our firefighters, and sometimes these outfits cost $1,000, and sometimes they are out there in blue jeans,” she said.
When Steffensen gets back to fighting fires, he also wants to be fully geared up and ready to go.
And healed too. He says he was almost fully healed but had to go back to Salt Lake City recently to regraft a burn wound on his leg.
Until then, he wants other volunteers to be ready to go.
Calendars are available at Billings area Ace Hardware stores, Shipton’s B R, Town and Country, Tractor Supply, and online atYellowstone County Fire Council.