Fort Ellis Fire Service Area History
The Fort Ellis Fire Service Area and the Fire Department started its life as the Fort Ellis Rural Fire Corporation July 29, 1969. In those days rural fire departments were not supported by taxes or fees. Instead each area that wished to have a fire department formed an entity, in our case the Fort Ellis Rural Fire Corporation, and those residents who wanted a fire department to come to their fire emergencies joined the corporation and paid an annual fee. Yellow numbered signs (that you can still see today on fences, garages, and houses) were issued to those residents who "joined" the Rural Fire Corporation and supported its operation by paying an annual fee. In 1969 the membership fee to join the corporation was $100 with an annual fee of $15 ($578 and $87 in 2009 accounting for inflation). The initial officers of the Corporation were Bud Clem, president, Chester Jensen VP, and John Sipkens, sec/treas; Bud Clem was our first fire chief. By November 1969, 24 residents had joined the Corporation and the first fire engine, a 1942 International fire truck was purchased for $1,500. The following year we received a 750 gallon, 1.5 ton 1956 Ford tanker from State Forester in exchange for fighting wildland fires. The annual call report for 1970 shows four calls – three grass fires and one vehicle fire.
In 1971 annual fees were raised to $20 ($96 in 2009 dollars), and in February 1972 the Corporation became a 501(c)(4) tax exempt organization. In 1973 the 1942 International was replaced by a 1952 Ford LaFrance. The Mount Ellis Academy agreed to provide a site for a fire station to be built in exchange for providing fire protection for Academy buildings. The fire engine was being kept in the boiler room at the Academy and the tender was kept outside. To improve fire safety in residences, the Department offered five pound fire extinguishers to members for $17.50.
A significant event occurred in March 1971. A structure fire occurred in a residence that had not joined the Corporation to receive fire protection. The Fort Ellis Fire Department declined to fight this house fire. This was a precursor to an incident in a neighboring district in 1979 which led to the state laws establishing tax and fee supported fire districts and fire service areas.
The 1972 call report indicated that there were no fires but the department went on three runs.
Construction was started on the Fort Ellis fire station. This was a 36'x40' fire station plus a 36'x16' bathroom/shower facility that was used by the Mount Ellis Academy during their Camp Week. A bid for $21,850 to construct the building was rejected by the board of directors and the station was constructed for $10,000 ($43,000 in 2009 dollars) plus much volunteer labor.
1975 saw the first County-wide radio system come into service. The Gallatin County Fire Council sponsored the installation of a repeater for Sheriff Office and County fire department dispatch. Fort Ellis was issued three pagers for alerting members.
In 1976 there was a fire at the Mount Ellis Academy that resulted in the engine in the 1952 Ford having to be replaced.
Only nine active firefighters noted in November. (Maintaining a volunteer firefighter membership continues to plague us today.)
In July a ½ ton pickup was
purchased for $1,600 and outfitted for wildland fire suppression.
Membership in the Rural Fire Corporation had climbed to 124 and annual fees were assessed at $25. A 1975 ¾ ton Chevrolet pickup was purchased for $2,200 and outfitted with a tank, pump and other equipment for wildland fire suppression for an additional $2,000.
Three fire trucks were equipped with radios and eight members were carrying pagers for alerting. On April 1 the remaining payment on the mortgage taken to build the fire station was paid. A symbolic "Burning of the Mortgage" was proposed for the 1982 annual general meeting of the Corporation. In 1981 there were six fires: three grass, one barn, one house and one chimney fire.
The Corporation reported 192 members at the annual general meeting in March and the annual fee remained at $25. Equipment was being purchased to build a 1,200 gallon tender on an International truck chassis. Eleven Firefighters were meeting for training on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month and a perennial plea was made for more volunteers. Income for the year: $7,103.00.
The rear 36'x16' part of the fire station was remodeled to be used as office and training room space for the Department. Income for the year: $9,686.00.
Bud Clem, Fire Chief from the start of the Fire Department in 1969 stepped down as Chief and Jim and Darrel Kurk jointly accepted the responsibility . There were 21 total calls in 1985.
After a disastrous fire (in another department's jurisdiction in 1979) where a non-paying resident's house burned to the ground without fire suppression, state law (House Bill 579) was changed to allow the formation of the Fort Ellis Fire Service Area in 1987. A resolution of intent to form the fire service area was passed by the County Commission on September 29, 1987. Now all residences were assessed an annual fee and the fire department provided fire protection and suppression to everybody in the area. Fire protection fees remained at $25/year.
Harvey Rattey donated a Mini Landing Eagle sculpture for a raffle that netted $1,432 for the Department.
The following article, showing the Department's 1952 Ford structure fire engine, appeared in the Bozeman Chronicle in about November 1987.
The Department assisted during the Yellowstone fires of 1988 by sending equipment and firefighters to the North Fork and Swan Creek fires, earning $20,000 for the Department.
We purchased a 1974 Dodge/Pierce Wildland engine, $14,500, with the proceeds of helping fight the 1988 Yellowstone fires. This served us well until about 2000. These pictures show Engine 5 in action on a fire along the railroad East of Bozeman Pass.
In 1989 it cost $400 to outfit a firefighter with turnout gear (now-a-days its more like $2,000). Plans were made to remodel the back part of the station to serve living space for firefighters to reduce response time for calls. This plan was eventually dropped and the space converted instead into office, kitchen and training area.
A 1,500 gallon storage tank, filled from Bear Creek, was installed at the station to provide a water supply to refill trucks.
Fees raised from $25 to $30. There were a total of 567 fee paying units in the fire service area. The Department purchased a truck from Federal Surplus for $5,900. This 1984, 1 ton Chevrolet was to become our first-response truck for almost all calls for the next 15 years. It was labeled Engine 3 and later became Brush 1-3.
Brush 1-3: 1984 Chevrolet 1 ton.
Harvey Rattey's donated sculpture "Three Quarter Strut" netted $2,859 in a raffle fundraising effort.
The Department purchased a 1981 American Fire Apparatus Invader 600 on a GMC 4x4 chassis structure engine from Steamboat Springs, CO for $32,000. The 750 gallon tank and 750 gallon per minute pump served the residents for 10 years.
Engine 2. 1981 GMC/American Fire Apparatus
The North bay was added to the fire station (40'x80').
Subdivision impact fees were in effect in 1994. Newly subdivided lots were assessed $100 per lot to offset the cost of growth to fire departments in Gallatin County.
The original boundaries of the Fire Service Area, drawn in 1987, including the Triple Tree ranch. When that became developed as a residential subdivision, it made sense for that area to be annexed into the Sourdough Fire District. This was approved by residents and the County Commission.
An International 4x4 dump truck from Washington State was purchased to be converted to a tender. The pictures below show the before-and-after results of the handywork of Merlin Hickman and others in the Department.
Finished Tender 1-4.
The Gallatin County Commission accepted a petition from residents to alter the kinds, types and levels of the service for the Fire Service Area to include "emergency medical services and equipment, and related personnel, facilities, and maintenance; community services through education and fire suppression for structures and wild land fires."
Please send corrections and additions to the history to Fred Cady, fcady at fortelllisfire dot org.
TO BE CONTINUED