A chimney fire threatened to burn down a DeBorgia retired couple’s home Friday, Sept. 22. The West-End Volunteer Fire Department responded at 10:30 p.m. and doused the flames before they could consume the home.
“We got real lucky,” said firefighter Art Drobny. Lucky that the volunteers, along with members from the St. Regis Fire Department, were able to respond so quickly and lucky that the couple had arrived home in time to realize a blaze had broken out.
The flames were not visible; instead the firefighters arrived to see smoke coming out of the attic from under the eaves. Upon closer inspection, using a thermal imaging camera that the department recently purchased, they found the flames were in between the wall and the fire place.
The home had a large stone hearth with a stove insert and there was a space in between the chimney and an outside stone wall. Drobny assumed a chimney fire had gotten so hot it started the stick frame wall on fire; however, the blaze is still under investigation.
The fire was doused by removing part of the outer wall and squirting water in between the chimney and outer wall.
This was one of the department’s first big tests since it has undergone personnel changes. Board elections were held last May where John Carpenter was elected chair, and new board members Brooke Lincoln and Bonnie Rausher joined the team. Both Lincoln and Rausher are former firefighters and Lincoln is also an EMT. Shawn Cielke and Mark Wasseen are also on the board.
Former fire chief Bruce Charles was asked to come back as a trainer by current chief Dick Hughes. Drobny is also a returning firefighter who had left the department in 2012.
“One of my greatest joys so far is getting Art back,” said Charles. “He’s an excellent firefighter and a first-class trainer, and having him back is super.”
Both Charles and Drobny have been involved with training the department’s approximately 10 volunteers.
“Safety for them is extremely important, and the only way you can learn a critical skill like this to repeat it and so that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Charles.
The volunteers have been meeting twice a month and spend up to three hours working with the equipment. For example, the volunteers have been learning how to drive the trucks safely and to position them at a fire and so a fire truck with a pump could be supported with a water tender, which brings in additional water.
There is also a new paging system in place, which alerts volunteers through their cellphones. Charles said the system works with the Mineral County Sheriff’s Office’s current dispatch system.
“This was a real test, this was combat,” said Charles regarding the chimney fire. “You learn how to shoot a rifle and all of a sudden you are in combat and all of that training paid off. This was a big deal because volunteers knew what equipment was available and they knew how to use it. There was also a good test on the Highway 135 fire near mile marker 6 a few weeks ago.”
A fire had broken out on Sept. 12 near the county line between Mineral and Sanders County. The West-End Fire Department joined in the fight against the blaze, which burned nearly nine acres. Charles said it was a good test for them in working with the other departments and the Forest Service.
The volunteers also worked with Craig Jeppson from Montana State University’s Fire Training School a few weeks ago. They learned how to use self-contained breathing apparatus.
“There’s different people on the board, and new volunteers and a real positive attitude,” said Charles.
However, they still need more firefighters and EMTs. Charles said he is putting together some EMT training classes and anyone who wants to volunteer can contact him at 406-370-0304.