Executive Summary

Problem: In stark contrast to metropolitan emergency services which usually provide quick, efficient, and effective lifesaving response to the whole gamut of large and small disasters, emergency services in rural America are in disarray. Study after study identifies the same deficiencies over and over. From inadequate budgets, too little training and old equipment to lack of communications and basic personal protective gear, our rural fire and rescue volunteers are trying to save lives and property without the knowledge and tools, at great risk to their own lives and at the expense of the safety of those who called for their help.

All of the deficiencies can be traced to a lack of directed and experienced leadership in rural America. Small communities typically have few, if any, individuals who have the training and experience to create an environment that is conducive to building effective emergency response teams. The community leaders have no formal project management training. They conduct business the way their fathers did, one day at a time, often with little or no long range plan. Further, state law is antiquated and gives little or no direction to our elected leaders. Emergency response boards are left to make their own rules and procedures, having to reinvent the wheel over and over.

Some examples of the problems

  • Fire-Rescue Companies that are responsible for hundreds of square miles of response area are often operating on budgets of less than five-thousand dollars for a year.
  • Fire Boards are operating without:

o      Understanding their duties;

o      A common mission;

o      A strategic plan.

  • Fire Boards don't agree on where they are going or how to get there.
  • Chiefs are being appointed for reasons other than experience, training, or capability, and are not given clear direction or adequate resources.
  • Firefighters are entering smoke-charged buildings without breathing apparatus, protective clothing, training, or back up.
  • First responders are dealing with hazardous materials incidents, again without training, equipment, or personal protective gear.
  • Vehicles average more than twenty-five years old and are in generally poor condition.
  • Firefighters are dying from heart attacks and traffic accidents; these are preventable.

The Last Mile:

In the last fifteen years, telecommunications companies throughout the world have installed hundreds of thousands of miles of broadband fiber optic cable, enough to simultaneously transmit a thousand Libraries of Congress around the world. What these same companies struggle with is getting a tiny fraction of that information to the end user. They are faced with "the last mile," a low bandwidth pathway which is usually old twisted pair copper wire.

Montana faces the same sort of challenge. While there are ongoing efforts to incorporate cutting edge technology and procedures in our statewide planning, we face the last mile: getting adequate training to the first responders and their leaders.

This is a project whose scope will touch every element of emergency service in Montana. While it is directed toward improving emergency response capabilities throughout rural Montana, it will reach the boards and leaders in all infrastructures who determine the future of the lives of present and future residents and visitors. These leaders are making decisions on planning boards, libraries, schools, law enforcement, legislative bodies, outreach programs, water policy boards, land use… For 90% of the area of Montana, small community decision-makers hold the key to the future. By training these key assets, the entire state can be prepared to meet and overcome obstacles.

Once the direction and support structure are in place, we train the responders with on-site, certified instructors who bring with them standard operating procedures for day-to-day operations, mutual aid, and statewide disaster response. Working with a common system, all of Montana’s first responders can perform effectively and efficiently to bring order to chaos, no matter the size of the incident.