Local crews talk safety after death of Montana firefighter
BENTON COUNTY, Wash. – A firefighter working to put out the Lolo Peak fire in western Montana is dead after being hit by a falling tree.
“Firefighting is a risky business,” said Captain Ed Dunbar of Benton County Fire District 4, “But we take controlled risks. Keeping firefighters alive is all about training.”
Area firefighters learn to be aware of their surroundings--trees, tripping hazards, and the wind--but, he said, “fires are unpredictable. We've had two firefighter deaths locally that have impacted us over the last few years. It devastates the departments.”
Firefighters face risks like heat stroke and cardiac problems from the intense physical work, which can do terrible things to their bodies.
This is why, Dunbar said, they take extra precautions in extreme conditions. Extra crews respond in the heat to relieve tired firefighters, and they monitor their blood pressure and body temperatures as well as enforce frequent breaks.
When they’re not on a fire, firefighters work out to stay strong.
Dunbar also spoke to the other side of well-being: self-care and monitoring the emotional toll the job can sometimes take. “If we're not paying attention to each other's health and well-being, we're not doing our job,”
Dunbar said it’s becoming more common to talk about it. “We realize that the emotional aspect of this job has severe consequences. If we're not dealing with the emotional side, we're not dealing with the whole person.”
This is why firefighters often reach out across state lines to offer support when another crew suffers a casualty. “It's very trying to see that,” Dunbar said, “That’s what we are, we're one big family. We look out for each other.”
And they continue to train for dangerous situations to bring down the number of deaths in their family.
“The expectation is you come to work, you work your butt off, you do your job, you go home in the morning. You're a little tired, a little sweaty, you're a little dirtier than when you started, but you go home and see your family.”
And protecting your family is what motivates them to do this difficult and dangerous work.