More demands, bigger digs
Big Sky Fire Department stations undergo remodel
For Big Sky Fire Department firefighters, perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the current remodel of Station 1 in the West Fork is the addition of bigger dorm rooms—an expansion upon the current lodging quarters, which were designed as closets and fit little more than a twin bed and a small locker.
“The station was never designed for people to be living in it,” said Battalion Chief Stephen Pruiett during a quick tour of the facility.
A close second might be the three new bathrooms with showers, since seven men currently share one cramped corner shower stall. And then there’s the kitchen upgrade, which will up the ante from a dated condo-style cooking space to a more commercial-grade kitchen with three refrigerators (versus one), better suited for the crew of hungry staff.
Starting this fall, a typical schedule for the BSFD is to have three shifts of seven firefighters working 48 hours on duty, living at the station during their shift. At any given time, seven to eight employees reside there. That’s a lot for a small space, so the department went to the voters during the last voting cycle and was able to pass a mill levy to pay for the current expansion.
“It’ll make this station actually inhabitable,” Pruiett said.
But the remodel addresses much more than the “finer things for firefighters” at Station 1. For the community, one of the biggest impacts actually will be related to the work taking place at Station 2 up in the Mountain Village.
As Pruiett explained, he’s from time to time come across the misconception that Station 2 is a staffed facility. It’s not, but that’s about to change. Langlas & Associates, the company hired to handle the remodel, is currently expanding the small station used mostly for storage and training to accommodate full-time staff. That means fleshing out the facility with a full kitchen, dorm rooms and full bathrooms—a second livable station for the BSFD crew.
Depending on the pace of construction, they'll be two firefighters working out of Station 2 by this ski season, during daytime hours. The department’s ultimate goal is to have the Mountain Station staffed with two firefighters, 24-7, within the next year or so.
The need for more space is concurrent with the need for more staff at BSFD. A master plan completed several years back predicted the number of calls for service the department would respond to by 2025, and it’s already surpassed that number by 2018. In an effort to describe the stretch the department faces, Pruiett recalled a situation a while back when he had to respond solo to a medical emergency, or a time when his teammate had to head to a chimney fire by himself.
“We’re spread thin and growing fast,” he said. “It’s the whole town. But we make it work.”
Two more firefighters are joining the department in a week or so, with four more in the works for next year. The current new hires will change the unmanned status of Station 2.
Remodel work began about a month ago, with the goal of completing the construction by spring. Of course setbacks do arise. At Station 1 it was quickly discovered during excavation of the apron on the building’s south side, aimed at addressing the poor drainage there, that a sewage line was broken. That set back the scheduled concrete pour.
Turns out, concrete is in high demand in Gallatin County, between the work being done on Jackrabbit Lane in Belgrade and the expansion at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport.
At the BSFD Board of Trustees meeting on Sept. 26, Deputy Chief Greg Megaard described the setback.
“That took us out of the (concrete pour) rotation, and getting back in is impossible,” he said. “Langlas said they pulled every string they could, and the soonest they can do it might be next week. That’ll push us back a little, but won’t delay us on any other projects.”
Other upgrades at Station 1 include fixing a roof leak that’s effectively destroyed walls and turned a work area into a indoor rainstorm when precipitation and snowmelt take place. Also, there will be vehicle turnouts in a ventilated area, which will no longer be saturated with diesel fumes. Plus—new siding and windows round things out.
The BSFD team continues to work around the construction zone that surrounds their day-to-day operations, using two engine bays at Station 1, storing vehicles outside and meeting amidst waving plastic tarps and the sounds of construction progress.
When asked by the board how the remodel work has affected them, the firefighters at the meeting seemed nonplussed, and more excited about the final product.
“We’re fine,” was the consensus.