MISSOULA — Montana is getting some help from the "Big Apple" for our "Big Sky" fires. It's not only helping American neighbors in need but repaying a tremendous favor.
The weather may be cooler this week. But Region 1 of the US Forest Service (USFS) here in the Northern Rockies still faces a major challenge in this extremely long, hot fire season.
"Being in Preparedness Level 5 right now, which is the highest preparedness level, we're stretched for resources. We're thin. We still have several weeks to go in the fire season, so resources are critical. Right now, we're trying our best to get crews in from wherever we can get them," said USFS Region 1 Press Officer Dan Hottle.
The New York Fire Department is among those answering the call, rolling into Missoula this week with a team more than 50-strong to help battle big fires in Central Montana.
It's a rescue 20-years in the making, coming two decades after firefighters from the West rolled into New York providing critical help after the 9-11 attacks. That response led to long-term relationships for rescue.
"It's an honor for us to come out here and help out with the community that helped us after 9-11," Richard DePrima told MTN News.
A 9-11 veteran, he remembers how firefighters from the Southwest Region provided critical help in the days after the attack.
"After 9-11, the wildfire community came and assisted us at, you know, the Trade Center. And since then we've been doing everything we can to try and pay back that community for the help they gave us a lot of time in need."
Most of this crew has already seen wildfire deployments, trained by the federal Wildfire Coordinating Group.
They'll be additional boots on the ground, integrating with the USFS, state, and local fire teams, providing much-needed emergency muscle.
"Right now we have the help of the Montana National Guard helping us out," Hottle said. "We've got assets from a lot of other states right now. So while we still work through our busy fire season, this group coming here all the way from New York is fantastic, and it's critical and it'll help us a lot."
In addition to helping us fight our fires, one of the objectives here is cross-training. Coming back with some positive experiences, something they could share with the firefighters back in New York.
"For example, when I go out on a deployment, I'll write down lessons learned and I come back and it might be the way that they do status checking or the way they do their work assignments or the way they deal with the public. And I just try to always come back with something. And we actually ask our team members, when you deploy, try to come back with something positive to bring back to our team." - Richard DePrima
After delivering something positive, and greatly needed in the West this summer, the return of helping hands.
The FDNY crews are being dispatched to help on the 21,000 acres American Fork Fire in the Crazy Mountains, the 8600-acre Balsinger Fire in the Little Belt Mountains, and the huge Wood Creek Fire, which has scorched more than 55,000 acres in the Big Belt Mountains.