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Western Montana's rural first responders deal with high gas prices

Florence Fire Engine
Posted at 4:10 PM, Jul 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-14 10:38:51-04

MISSOULA - Filling up at the pump is costing Montanans and it is putting a strain on our communities' rural first responders.

“You know our budget just doesn't go up because gas prices are up, so we have to absorb that somewhere,” said Mel Holtz with the Frenchtown Rural Fire District firefighter.

Holtz said they have seen a 20-to-30% increase in calls from this time last year, making the current pump prices hurt.

“Having a smaller department with a smaller budget, you definitely have to get creative,” Holtz told MTN News.

Frenchtown isn’t the only department looking at reallocating funds due to these high prices.

The big rigs at the Florence Volunteer Fire Department hold up to 100 gallons of diesel and with gas prices being close to $6 per gallon it takes nearly $600 to fill one of these up if on empty.

“We still have to operate, you know, we will make cuts in other places, you know, but fuel is one of those things that we have to have and and it's unfortunate we have to cut some equipment out to buy fuel." - Florence Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charlie Lambson.

For these tax-funded volunteer departments in Western Montana, going over budget is a direct result of paying big prices at the pump.

Lambson said he was about $3,000 over budget on fuel this past fiscal year- raising this year's fuel budget.

“It was raised accordingly to what we hope will be enough if gas prices continue to go up then again we'll have to make some more cuts,” Lambson told MTN News.

“We know that number is going to significantly significantly go up which is going to impact other programs," said Holtz. "May impact training, may impact some the supplies we can get here.”

Florence Fire Engine
Rising fuel costs are impacting rural fire departments, including in Florence.

Both the Florence and Frenchtown departments say their volunteers are driving themselves to the station and sometimes to incidents- using their own gas to respond to the community.

They are also seeing inflation and supply shortages impact necessities like gloves, medicines and work tools.

With Frenchtown seeing an increase in calls and Florence coming off a record high call year, inflation is making it a real challenge to plan ahead.