BY SHAWN WHITE WOLF, Helena IR Staff Writer
The remaining young men and women of the 42-member Alliance Fire Crew returned to Helena last Friday with sore feet and tired bodies after being gone for 65 days.
“When it was time to work we worked,” said Jay Broaden, a newly elected fire crew committee member. “Everyone seemed to have good morale.”
In its eighth year, the Alliance Fire Crew reported record numbers in both salaries and days on the line, founder Dale Good Gun said on Monday afternoon.
Salaries earned this year by the fire crew topped $300,000. He said those salaries included $90,000 for search and recovery efforts from the space shuttle Columbia accident and $200,000 for fighting numerous wildfires throughout Montana.
The Alliance Fire Crew began in 1995, when Good Gun asked the U.S. Forest Service if it would sponsor a group of local American Indians to train as firefighters. Since then, the U.S. Forest Service has helped fund training opportunities for hundreds of young individuals throughout Montana. He said more than 250 people have served as members of the fire crew since its inception.
The Montana United Indian Association’s Heather Sobrena-George, works as both a liaison and advocate to the fire crew. MUIA is an American Indian resource and advocacy organization with offices throughout the larger urban populations in Montana.
Good Gun said Monday that he no longer fights fires because he has chosen a career as a chemical-dependency counselor. However, he maintains a position as a representative of the group throughout the state.
Today, the fire crew operates by a democratically run committee where crew members nominate and elect its members. The Alliance Fire Crew also now is open to anyone interested in firefighting.
Casey Curley and Jay Broaden are the two most recently elected committee members. Sam LaDeau, crew boss, Russ Goddard, lead sawyer and certifier, and Stephanie Miller, squad boss, make up the remainder of the committee.
“These people (the committee members) get trained up to other jobs in the fire crew,” said Miller, a four-year veteran of the fire crew. “If you want to learn how to run the crew, then this is how you do it.”
Miller said that each committee member is assigned a different duty to meet while keeping track of other training opportunities.
“We are looking to invest in people that are interested in staying with the crew longer to get experience,” she said.
Good Gun said a number of past fire crew members with experience have moved on to various positions in the U.S. Forest Service, on hot shot crews, or get offered opportunities in other places.
“People don’t have 40-hour work weeks; they get paid by each fire, so that isn’t a lot of security,” said Miller.
She added that at times not everyone on the fire crew gets called out all at once and sometimes people just can’t make it on that one fire.
However, she reiterated that anyone who chooses to remain at home for whatever reasons isn’t disqualified from being on the fire crew.
Good Gun said the crew had 42 active firefighters, but only 20 people go out at a time. Yet, so far this year the fire crew as a whole has broken its previous record of 52 days of service throughout Montana. That record was set in 2000.