Struggling to meet a 78% increase in calls for help, Missoula Fire Department officials say they need additional funding to not only meet the increased demand but also to give firefighters the personnel and equipment they'll need in the years to come.

And the Missoula City Council is ready to debate the idea of asking voters to approve a levy increase to make those improvements as soon as November.

The "Fire Initiative" would be the first time in several years that Missoula residents have been asked to help Missoula Fire with additional dollars.

Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM logo
Get our free mobile app

Missoula leaders pitch levy

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday morning, Missoula Fire Chief Gordon Hughes said the city's growth, from 24-square miles in 2008 to 35 miles today, has complicated the fire department's mission of not only meeting the volume of fire and medic calls. but keeping response times acceptably short.

"Those factors are contributing to a steep increase in our call volume," Hughes said. "And contributing to a significant issue and complexity with our response times, and our station reliability."

Missoula firefighters explained the challenges from more calls; Dennis Bragg photo
Missoula firefighters explained the challenges from more calls; Dennis Bragg photo

In fact, city leaders say only one location, Station 5 in Lower Miller Creek, is consistently under the national fire standards for a response, with equipment arriving on the scene as much as  2 to 4 minutes later than the target times.

A big problem is limited personnel

Missoula Fire hasn't had an increase in personnel since 2008, yet calls for service because of the increase in population have climbed from 5,849 a year that year, to well over 10,000 last year. Hughes says that's not only squeezing the available teams but making it extremely difficult to respond to multiple calls at once across the city. He says it's also making it more difficult for firefighters to recover from difficult calls and trauma.

Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess; Dennis Bragg photo
Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess; Dennis Bragg photo

"Our call volume has grown over time, and our staffing has remained static over a decade now." - Mayor Jordan Hess.

If the special mill levy were approved, it would generate about $7 million per year, costing $54 dollars a year per $100,000 if assessed valuation.

The City Council's Public Safety Committee will consider the idea during its Wednesday morning meeting, starting at 9 am. If the concept gets support there, the pitch will go to the full city council for consideration next Monday night.

Missoula's Beartracks Bridge Rebuild

A look back at one of Missoula's biggest construction projects

More From Newstalk KGVO 1290 AM & 98.3 FM