Madison Valley Rural Fire Department trustees streamline operations, update public

The Madison Valley Rural Fire Department board of trustees and staff have been busy this past couple of years working on improving the way they do business and planning for the future of the department.

Now much of the planning work is completed and the operations of the fire district are more efficient and streamlined, said trustee Bernie Oglietti.

“We all agreed as trustees we needed to pick up the pace and do a better job as a board,” Oglietti said.

Some of those changes include hiring a professional bookkeeper to get the finances in order, adjusting insurance for the department to bring it up to the appropriate level, and working with Montana State University on developing a long-range plan for the department.

In addition to these internal changes, voters also approved a permanent mill levy last year to fund the fire department. Now the town of Ennis is incorporated into the fire district, which means everyone from the Raynolds Pass to Norris Hill pays the same taxes for the fire district, said Ted Liss, chairman of the board of trustees.

The Madison Valley Rural Fire District covers nearly 1,300 square miles from the Idaho line to the top of Norris Hill. It has two stations, one in Ennis and a second in the southern end of Madison Valley. About 30 firefighters volunteer for the district.

In 2010, firefighters from the department responded to 78 incidents, including 15 fires and 30 rescues.

Last year the department took in about $256,570 in revenue, mostly from property taxes and spent about $223,920, according to the financial statement provided by Oglietti.

One of the significant savings in the department has come from refinancing their $244,000 of outstanding debt with the Montana Board of Investments, which dropped the department’s interest rate down to 1.9 percent from a rate of 5.5 percent. This alone will save the district about $7,600 a year, or approximately the cost of outfitting two firefighters.

Some of what the board of trustees has been working on is a better way of communicating with the public the position of the district, both financially and from a level of service standpoint, as well as ascertaining what the public’s expectation of the district is, Oglietti said.

“There’s an awful lot to be done and on that list is finding out citizens’ expectations for levels of service,” he said.

Firefighters with the department have been doing a great job of serving the community with the equipment they have, said fire chief Shawn Christensen. But he looks around at the department’s equipment and sees some needs.

For instance, there isn’t a ladder truck in Madison County. A ladder truck would allow firefighters to take a more aggressive approach when battling fires in multistory buildings, like those found on the Main Streets of Ennis, Twin Bridges, Virginia City and Sheridan.

However, a ladder truck is too much for one department to purchase on its own, and would probably have to be a cooperative effort with all the rural volunteer fire departments around the county, Christensen said.

The department is also looking at building a new fire station south of Ennis near the Varney Bridge. This station would provide homeowners in the area a better level of service, he said. There is 35 miles between the station in Ennis and the one in the south Madison. A new station would certainly shorten response times.

The growth of the department is outlined in the strategic plan, said trustee John Lounsbury.

The plan doesn’t call for purchasing new equipment or building new fire stations, it just outlines some of the needs that will arise as the population within the district continues to grow, Lounsbury said. The plan gives the board of trustees a tool to help them plan for department operations 10, 15 and even 40 years down the road.

“To me there are things over the horizon that have not been addressed that need to be addressed, Oglietti said.

The plan helps bring focus to future needs like equipment upgrades, firefighter training needs and volunteer recruitment, Lounsbury said.

Also part of the plan is to bring the Insurance Service Office to the district to look at the ISO rating, hopefully this summer.

“The last time we had ISO here to give a classification was 1991,” Christensen said.

The ISO rating is used for property insurance purposes and a lower rating can mean lower insurance rates. Currently in the Madison Valley the ISO ratings are at 9 in the rural areas and 7 in Ennis. The ratings are on a scale of 1 to 10.

The ISO visit will also be another chance for an outside organization to look at the department and provide them feedback on their operations.

“It’s another external look at our operations,” Oglietti said.

Also this year the trustees will start working on ways to gauge public expectations of the department and these efforts will include surveys and meetings, he said.

The trustees met with Madison County Commissioners last week as part of the process of getting the word out to the public about the changes at the department.

People who have questions about the Madison Valley Volunteer Fire Department can go online to www.mvrfd.org or call 682-3311.

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