Around 1985, Vern Petersen heard that the Department of State Lands was loaning wildland fire trucks to ‘organized’ fire districts. Since Heath had no fire protection at that time, Vern talked to other residents and found interest in starting a fire district. On October 4, 1985, 16 property owners presented a petition to the Fergus County Commissioners which stated:
We, the undersigned, pursuant to the provisions of 7-33-2101 MCA, respectfully submit to you:
That we are the owners of fifty percent (50%) or more of the privately-owned lands within the proposed district.
That we constitute a majority of the taxpayers, who are freeholders of the private lands within the proposed district, and whose names appeared as said taxpayers upon the last completed preceding assessment roll.
We desire that the Fergus County Commissioners establish a Rural Fire Protection District to be known as the Heath Rural Fire District.
After the petition was approved, the real work began. The By-Laws were written, and becausethe petitioners required it, the following was stipulated under III. FINANCING, Section G:
The funding of this District cannot be put on a mill levy taxing system by the trustees or the county without a vote by the membership with over 50% of the privately owned acres voting in favor of such change who constitute a majority of the taxpayers who are freeholders of such area and whose names appear on last completed assessment roll.
(It should be understood that, at that time, there were few subdivisions, and the ranchers did not want to be taxed further for any reason. If this clause had not been included in the By-Laws, the original petitioners would not have signed, and Heath Rural Fire District would not have been created.)
Start-up costs were estimated at $10,000 – which meant $249 for each of the 40 residents wanting to participate. The Aid Association for Lutherans gave two grants of $2,500 each.
These grants, plus donations, covered the
$7,075 cost of the Fire Hall. Vern Petersen was elected the first President of the Board of Trustees, which included Secretary/Treasurer Ann Bishop, and trustees Elton Owens, John Williams, and Lee Hoyer. Bill Bishop was the first Fire Chief. There was one truck (loaned from State Lands), some equipment, and training classes taught by DNRC. HRFD was off and running! One of the primary goals was to earn the ISO Class 9 rating.
In the late 80s, DNRC loaned a second truck. In the early 90s, Fergus County fire districts got organized and formed the Fire Council, Elton Owens was appointed Fire Chief when Bishop was away from the District too much to serve, and Elton and Jill Owens sold HRFD a ’71 pickup
at a bargain price. In the mid 90s, a few firefighters in each fire district got pagers, and George Simonson funded radios with a $2,000 donation.
In 1996, the membership voted to fund an Annuity with the Central Montana Foundation for the purpose of using the interest for operating expenses when it was fully funded after 10 years. The cost was $50 per year per member, or $500. (This $500, plus original membership cost of
$249, amounts to our current membership fee of $749.)
Harley and Bobbi Rouns donated a pickup in 2005. In 2006, the Board decided to ask the membership for approval to re-commit to earning a Class 9 ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating. After the approval vote at the Annual Meeting, structure training was set up for April, May, June, and July with 10 firefighters attending. A FEMA grant was written for PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus). The District and its firefighters were enrolled in Montana’s Retirement Program. Town Pump awarded $4,100 for radios for the existing trucks. An HRFD auction raised $15,000 toward an Engine. Donations for the truck purchase totaled $8,776. During the end of 2006 and the beginning of 2007, 14 grants were written to raise money for the truck purchase. Six (6) grants were awarded for a total of $15,500. The auction money, donations and grants totaled $39,000 for the truck and $8,300 forequipment for the truck.
In May, 2007, the long-awaited engine was purchased - a 1984 International pumper truck. Also, in 2007, a 74 flatbed truck was donated by Guy and Betty Decker, and was converted to a water tender with a carrying capacity of 2000 gallons. Fergus County fire districts wrote a county-wide FEMA grant that funded new radios.
In October, the much-sought-after ISO Class 9 rating was awarded to HRFD, and insurance rates were reduced! 2008 was the y
ear Standard Operating Guidelines were written and approved, and Mike and Wendy Jensen donated a 4000 gal
lon water tender.
Since 2006, HRFD has had 12 firefighters trained in fighting wildland fires and structure fires. From 2006 through 2010, HRFD has responded to 25 calls with 81 truck responses and 207 total firefighters. Our firefighters have logged 3,102 hours of training. Quite impressive!
And this ends the short edition of our history.