A special thank you to the Spanish Peaks Community Foundation for their generous donation. These funds will go towards the purchase of new extrication equipment for the department. (L to R) John Haas and Louise Astbury representing the Foundation, Big Sky Fire District Board Chair Alan McClain and Fire Chief William Farhat. Farhat offered updates about fire protection in Spanish Peaks at the October board meeting.

Prior planning

Big Sky Fire Department to pursue updated master plan

When the last Big Sky Fire Department Master Plan was completed at the end of 2015, consultants from Emergency Services Consulting, International looked at the next decade, predicting steep growth for Big Sky. The consultants weren’t wrong, but that growth, and the demand for the emergency services that coincide, happened much quicker than the report forecast—a full seven years earlier, as BSFD Chief William Farhat explained at the department’s monthly board meeting in October.

“It's reflective of the explosive growth in Big Sky and it has been a challenge to address as we are just now implementing some of the recommendations of the 2015 Master Plan, and now we need to adjust our goals due to the all of the changes in the community,” said Farhat. 

That’s not to say the plan wasn’t useful. The 2015 report was the basis of the BSFD’s successful 2017 request for a mill levy increase, which addressed the need for updated fire stations and adding more firefighters, as well as for the FEMA grant the department received to support additional staffing. 

It’s not just the recent growth of the community, but the scope of the projects being planned by local developers that are weighing on Big Sky’s fire and emergency services. The 140-room luxury hotel recently announced at the Spanish Peaks Club is a prime example of that—upon completion it could be the largest private building in Montana, said Farhat.

The fire chief explained the lodge’s impact on his department, noting that BSFD is now responsible for approving plans for the luxury Spanish Peaks lodge, inspecting the various phases construction to ensure safety, and responding to emergencies during and after the construction process is complete. 

To meet the emergency response and insurance underwriting requirements for buildings like this, and others that are either planned or also occurring, developers are asked to provide the necessary tools to BSFD, “as we don't always have the capacity to address the need,” Farhat said. “In this example, we will need to have a station in the Spanish Peaks area, which would include a building, equipment and required staffing. These discussions are always challenging due to the high costs involved, but I am confident that we will come up with a plan that is workable for all parties involved.”

With these projects, and the likely continued growth of the community as a whole, Farhat requested approval from his board of trustees at their October meeting to pursue an updated master plan. It won’t be cheap—costing up to $35,399 for the master plan and $35,420 for a community risk assessment and standards of cover model, but it’s a $70,000 move that the fire chief believes will be money well spent.

The standards of coverage would define what the board, representing the community, wants in terms of coverage and services provided—from response time, which translates into the number of stations needed, their placement, and how many staff would be required to make it happen. 

“It would be longterm goals. This isn’t something where we would be like ‘Ok, let’s start doing this,’ but we would have a better understanding,” Chief Farhat told the board. “We’re still evolving, so we’re trying to get a direction. This would help you, and me, better understand what we need to do and give us better goals to aim for, and defense when we are questioned about where we are basing our decisions off of.”

Ultimately, Farhat has requested that the board update the department’s budget to allow for the project to move forward, employing ESCI to again evaluate Big Sky’s needs in relation to the BSFD. 

Before eventually approving the move, BSFD Board Chair Alan McClain had several questions for Farhat, learning that the last master plan, sans the standards of cover model, cost approximately $50,000, the board was satisfied with the plan, and that it was issued in a timely manner.

“I feel like we’re right there needing the master plan update,” McClain said. “I’m all for it.” The board followed suit, agreeing to allow Farhat to hire ESCI to update the district’s master plan. The new master plan and standards of cover document should be completed by the spring of 2019.

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