At one point at the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, nearly half the fire department was quarantined at one time by the Missoula City County Health Department, said new Fire Chief Gordy Hughes on Friday’s City Talk program.

“At one point early in the pandemic, we had an individual that caught COVID, and through contact tracing we had to quarantine over half of the fire department,” said Chief Hughes. “There were 52 individuals that we had on quarantine, and our guys stepped up tremendously to fill in shifts to reach our minimum staffing requirements. I can't say enough about our guys and gals that are in the department that work for us every day.”

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Hughes said the department’s goal is to get to the scene of every call within six minutes.

“In our analytics to an emergency, we always try to get to an emergency in six minutes or less,” he said. “That's the gold standard, and with the growth of the city and the potential annexation, our master fire plan showed that we had potential to build out two additional fire stations within Missoula. That would have been driven by an annexation to the West.”

Hughes said his department responded to more calls that ever before in the last year.

“The gold mark that we always thought a few years ago would be that 10,000 mark, but with 11,000 you can see that we're ramping things up exponentially,” he said. “So I think we're seeing a lot of trending based on the pandemic and what those results meant to us. We're also seeing a tremendous amount of calls for behavioral health and mental health issues.”

Responding to a call about what it takes to become a Missoula City fireman, Chief Hughes related just some of the tasks a recruit must complete within a 10 minute time limit.

“You start out on a treadmill with a 45 pound vest and equipment on your person and you do that for three minutes, and then after that you drag a hose for a couple hundred feet,” he said.  “You carry equipment, chainsaw and a cutting saw and walk an obstacle course, you raise a ladder, hit a sled which symbolizes a forcible entry prop and you go through a maze to determine whether or not you're claustrophobic.”

Another listener asked Chief Hughes about the trend of narrowing streets to help control traffic in Missoula. He admitted that, as a fireman, he was not a fan.

“Timely delivery of emergency services is our most important attribute that we have to identify,” he said. “However, at the expense of maybe angering some of my city cohorts around town, you know, narrowing streets and slowing down traffic is not helping the citizens that we serve.”

Chief Hughes took over from retired Chief Jeff Brandt.

Click here to listen to the entire City Talk program with Fire Chief Gordy Hughes.

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