One of the reasons we are all in Montana is the undeniable beauty that lies therein. Citizens of the Big Sky State are constantly enveloped in breathtaking scenery and subtle moments of serenity and contentedness. There are areas which capture this entirely, and Wise River is no exception.

Wise River is a staple of Montana. It is a small mountain community located in Southwest Montana and offers opportunities for travel and exploration unlike any other. It is surrounded by mountains and lakes, streams and trails, rivers and roads. The area covers a half-million acres of Montana landscape. Wise River is surrounded by the awe-inspiring landscape that attracts so many to the state of Montana.

The community of Wise River is located on MT Highway 43. It is also an actual river, funneling from the Pioneer Mountains into the Big Hole. The Pioneer Mountains offer backcountry recreation, such as backpacking, mountain biking, hiking, camping, and skiing. Both the Wise River and Big Hole offer aqueous recreation and camping; there are numerous campgrounds that cover the Wise River and the Big Hole. In the area is also the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, which offers more camping and Montana recreation.

Not only is Wise River a perfect example of Montana’s beauty, but it is also an encapsulation of Montana’s history. The ghost town of Coolidge and the silver mine of Elkhorn are located in the area and offer residents and visitors the opportunity to explore Montana’s vibrant history.

Wise River, along with other towns in the area, are in desperate need of volunteers. They need men and women who will step up, and make a commitment to serving the communities which make Montana so magnificent. Wise River is a timeless representation of the beauty and bounty of Montana. Steinbeck wrote, “I am in love with Montana. For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection. But with Montana, it is love. And it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

Departments in this area are looking for volunteers. Chiefs are eager to meet you and to give you an opportunity to serve in one of the most beautiful places in the world. To protect the pristine nature and the serenity of the state.

What is stopping you?

Who are you? What is your background/experience in volunteer fire?

"My name is Jes Tews and I am currently a college student at the University Of Montana Western in Dillon. I am originally from Nevada and moved to Dillon three years ago to college rodeo. I had little experience when I joined Dillon's fire department. When I turned 18, I got on a rural fire department in a ranching community in Elko, Nevada. The only calls we got out there were big wildfires and car wrecks"

What made you decide to volunteer? Why did you join this department specifically?

"Growing up on the family ranch in Elko, I saw a lot of wildfires. In the summer of 2006, a massive wildfire burnt through my families ranch. Being around all the action and seeing all the big fire trucks and what all the firefighters were doing made me really interested in the fire service. I joined Dillon's department not only because I live here now, but because Dillon is such a great community. I realized how much Dillon gives to the University and I wanted to be able to give back to my community."

What do you feel you have gained through your service?

"I feel that I gained how to trust not only myself but trusting the other guys on the department on calls. Whether it's on a car wreck or a house fire, I have learned trust goes a long way and no matter what we have each other's back."

What are the greatest challenges you have faced?

"The greatest challenge I have faced would be the emotional aspect of being a firefighter in a small community. Being a first responder, we see a lot of bad stuff the general public usually doesn't see. When the pager goes off, the odds of me knowing someone from the college or the community are pretty high so I just have to push through that and know that it's my job to help them in their time of need."

What keeps you volunteering? What keeps you in this department specifically?

"What keeps me here is definitely the brotherhood of our department and the great community of Dillon. I enjoy being in this area and the community of Dillon is such a great place to live. After every call, no matter how big or small, knowing that we were able to help someone in a time of need is such a great feeling."

What advice would you give those interested in volunteering?

"My advice to anyone who wants to be a volunteer is to go for it. Volunteers across the nation are at an all-time low and the service needs more people. So if you think you have what it takes, go to your local fire department and tell them you are interested and get your foot in the door. The fire service is a great thing to get into and a great way to serve your community. Once you get started, I can guarantee you will be hooked."

Rahn Abbott, Sheridan Volunteer Fire Department

What is your experience in volunteer firefighting?
“My name is Rahn Abbott. I am originally from the Central Montana area, and I later moved to the Belgrade area. I was approached by the Chief of the Gallatin River Ranch Fire Department. They needed volunteers to fill their roles. EMS appealed to me at the time and they were offering an EMT class in cooperation with the fire department in Belgrade. I felt like EMS is what I wanted to do and fire was a necessary evil to get where I wanted to go. Since that time I have always worked on either a volunteer department or a career fire/ems department. In 2014, I returned to the Sheridan, MT area and volunteered with the department here. Currently, I serve in the Assistant Chief position for the Sheridan Fire Department.” 

What made you decide to volunteer? Any specific events/influences?
“I was raised on a ranch in Central Montana. The work ethic instilled in me from a young age was that if you could help your neighbor, you did. You didn't expect payment in return. That has carried over into my adult life on a volunteer department. Helping your neighbor and community is just what you do. There really isn't a different choice. I realize that it's impossible to help everyone all the time. So really, the choice is how and where you help, whether it's fire, EMS, SAR, or one of the other multitudes of volunteer organizations designed to help the community.”  

Why did you chose to work in this department?
“The reason I chose the Sheridan Fire Department was because that's where I lived. I didn't have the time or availability to serve on the EMS department at the time. Additionally, fire is where my passion and my heart are and it is what I know best.”

What do you feel you have gained through your service?
“I have gained so much through fire and EMS both that I don't really know where to start. I think the biggest thing that has influenced my life was the realization that I can be anything I want to be. The courage and the confidence that I can do anything I want to do if I put my mind to it. Once you put yourself in a training situation and that is several hundred degrees in temperature and you live to tell about it, you have the confidence to do that in a real situation. In reality, you have the confidence to do anything you set your mind to. Similarly, when your care and actions in EMS have saved a life, it builds a level of confidence that you carry with you your entire life. 

When you volunteer you don't get paid money. What you do get paid is worth far more. When someone walks up to you on the street and thanks you for saving their life, a loved one's life, or someone’s property, that is the payment no paycheck could cover."

What are the greatest challenges you have faced? 
“I think far too often in this business, we sugarcoat the challenges. We only talk about the good stuff in hopes of getting someone to join the ranks. People then join with an unrealistic expectation and their families have an unrealistic expectation of the challenges. For example, many of the large training opportunities are offered in the spring. It's not unrealistic to be gone for several weekends in a row in the spring to attend training. On top of that is the regular training offered by your own department. Dedicating one night a week or more to the department is a huge time commitment. Missing important events like holiday, birthdays and anniversaries are not uncommon.

There is also the simple challenge of the pager going off at 1:00 in the morning when it's -20 degrees out. I think all too often we throw around the word volunteer and apply it in the wrong context. I believe a person volunteers to join the department. At that point, the volunteer part stops, and you have then made a commitment to your community. And as a result, you will miss many things that are important to you. 

Another huge challenge we face is manpower. We live in a small community and there are not a lot of people who are able to volunteer their time. When you are on a department that only has a few members that will regularly show up to calls, it makes you feel obligated to show up. The frustration and challenges come from people who could volunteer some time, but make excuses instead. We all like to do other things, and if we had more people, you wouldn't feel as obligated to show up for everything. We could all have a little time off.”

What keeps you volunteering? What keeps you in this department specifically?
“I don't know. As I said, it's just who I am and it's what I do. If you can help your neighbor, you do. It's just that simple. I look around and think that I can do this. If I don't do this, who will?”

What advice would you give those interested in volunteering?
“My advice is to try it. Volunteering isn't for everyone. And if you can…great! We could use you. If you can't, that is understandable too. But if you can't, be upfront and honest with the leaders of the organization. Don't be the person who stays on the rolls to get their T-shirt every year and only come to the fun calls. This is an occupation where lives are on the line. This is not a front row seat to the biggest event in town. Also, if you do join...train. Firefighting is a dangerous job. It's your training that keeps you safe. You wouldn't take any other dangerous job without doing some training. The same goes for fire.”

Virginia City is an old mining camp 20 miles west of Yellowstone. The old-West Victorian town is a well-preserved community that offers a glimpse of Montana’s history.

Placer diggings were discovered in Alder Gulch in spring 1863, and miners found gold. They used various tools to retrieve it from the earth and pan the precious metals from the gravel. Eventually, the gold ran out, but there was enough to allow citizens the opportunity to stay within the area, but not enough to remodel buildings.

The town was essentially frozen in time and represents the Victorian-Era in Montana.

Both Nevada City and Virginia City offer historical tours, which give people the opportunity to explore Montana’s vibrant history. This includes exploring the grounds on a self-guided tour, watching reenactors, and visiting museums or galleries. Reenactors and tours allow people to explore traditional historic dress and skills that are unique to the town, such as gold panning and blacksmith work. People also have the opportunity to explore the culture of the town by listening to local bands and visiting museums and galleries. There is lodging now where Nevada City once existed, and tours restore the life of the town.

It is important that someone is available to preserve Montana’s rich history. Volunteer firefighters and EMS in the area carry preservation a step further by ensuring the safety and security of one of Montana’s most prized areas.

Virginia City represents not only Montana’s vibrant history, but also Montana’s beauty and opportunities for recreation. There are several opportunities for outdoor recreation in the area. This includes fishing, hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and even panning for gold.

It is important that volunteers dedicate their time to preserving the area so that it still has the same opportunities for exploration. The old-West Victorian town would not exist as a preservation of Montana’s vibrant history.

Virginia City is a staple of Montana. Without the volunteers at Virginia City Volunteer Fire Department, the former capital of our state would not exist as it does today.

Tell me about your experience in volunteer firefighting?

“My name is Butch Frediana. I have a background in Construction Management of all types, but soon began my volunteer work at Virginia City Volunteer Fire Department.”

What made you decide to volunteer? Any specific events or influences? 

“I decided to volunteer to help the community that I live in. I have friends who are first responders, and they aided in my decision to serve my community.”

What do you feel you have gained through your service?

“In my time in the department, I have learned new ways to help those in my community. I have also learned tactical skills like how to protect property.”

What keeps you volunteering? What keeps you in this department specifically? 

“Volunteering gives me the opportunity to serve the community that I live in. I also work with great people, which gives me the motivation to continue volunteering at the department.

Our community provides dinner for us on our training nights which is also very appreciated by myself and the other volunteers at the station.”
What advice would you give to those interested in volunteering?
“I would tell those interested in working at the department that volunteering provides a great sense of self-worth. It also gives volunteers the ability to learn about themselves and how to serve their communities.” 

Spotlight Blog

Robert Erdall, Virginia City Rural Fire District

What is your experience in volunteer firefighting?
“My name is Robert Erdall and I've been on the V.C.R.F.D. for 47 years.”

What made you decide to volunteer? Any specific events/influences? Why this department?
“I volunteered because the department was in desperate need of volunteers. I chose to work in this department specifically because this is where I am from.”

What do you feel like you have gained through your service?
“I feel like I have gained a degree of satisfaction and accomplishment. I have also learned how to work as a team member.”

What are some challenges you have faced?

“A challenge that I have faced working in this department is working with old and inadequate equipment.”

What keeps you volunteering? What keeps you at this department specifically?

“The reason that I continue volunteering is the knowledge that no one coming in behind us. I have remained at this department because this is home.”

What advice would you give to those interested in volunteering?

“I would tell those interested in volunteering to make the commitment. I believe that it will be well worth it, since it requires learning and leads to a sense of satisfaction.”