BILLINGS - Call volume has been steadily increasing over the years for the Billings Fire Department, but with Montana’s recent cold temperatures the workload has seemed to intensify.
“Unfortunately, a lot of structure fires,” said Battalion Chief Kevin Johnson. “We're dealing with a lot of slick roads.”
Johnson says the weather has wreaked havoc on their call load, keeping firefighters busy even fighting fires in18-degree temperatures.
“You know we're averaging 48 calls a day right now from the first year, you know we ran over 18,000 calls last year which is almost a thousand increase from the year before and a thousand before that,” he said.
With over a week of straight frigid temps he says 2021 is starting off with a blast.
And their equipment is feeling the hit.
“So, it's just a lot more miles and hours and these trucks and all the equipment,” he said. “Gaskets get torn, air packs get really beat up because they're full of ice…”
Along with that, the recent crash of a fire truck doesn’t help.
Firefighters were heading to help on a cold-weather crash last week and toppled the engine on the snow and ice.
While everyone was okay, Johnson says they're using the incident as a learning experience but are now down a rig for a response.
“We don't have we reserved pumper right now,” he said. “Fleets is working like crazy to get us two trucks backed up and to give us some bench depth. We try not to use them every day but now we are, we're forced to put them into full status.”
Johnson says while the department is out roughly $30,000, the apparatus was up for replacement in 2024. So the pinch is still felt. And he says scheduled maintenance will now have to wait.
And just when you thought a slight rise in our temperatures would smooth it all out, Johnson says there’s now a bunch of new emergencies to think about.
“To be honest with you, it's probably going to get busier,” he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of pipes, a lot of sprinkler systems froze, and you don't even know they're leaking. Now we've got layer after layer of ice.”
The agency is on track to exceed its call volume in 2021.
The department is also looking ahead to replacing a few fire trucks in the coming years, up for routine replacement.