Welcome - A Message from the Chief
Even though our call volume is down a bit from last year (your volunteers answered just over 200 calls), we have responded to many vehicle fires, motor vehicle crashes and EMS calls this past year. To help us respond to a wide variety of calls, we have added another apparatus to our Fort Ellis fleet. We were fortunate to receive –at no cost to the department - a 2005 Chevrolet 1.5 ton extended cab pickup with a tall enclosed utility body from Malstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls. We had the truck detailed to match our fleet also adding appropriate emergency warning package. The new truck is known as Support 1-6 (S1-6) and will respond to calls where additional support is needed for tools, equipment, or manpower. This truck is also ideal for use on Interstate 90 responses. With the large utility body, extensive lighting, and large reflective rear chevron striping, it can be seen from a long distance for motorists approaching a scene. Many thanks go out to Fort Ellis firefighters Paul Refling and Henry Shovic for helping to customize and outfit the truck.
Our new acquisition also raised an issue the department currently is facing and will continue to face as our district grows. The current Fort Ellis fire station is undersized and inadequate for the department’s needs. The fire station is housed on property owned by Mount Ellis Academy with a long-term lease expiring in 2024. The department enjoys an outstanding partnership with the Academy and has appreciated their generosity over the years. To help plan for future needs, our board of directors and senior leadership team have begun long range planning for a potential expansion of our station to the east of where it currently sits. In addition, future vehicle replacement and radio upgrades are being considered; though the radios are dependent on Gallatin County’s radio plan. As our planning progresses, we will keep our residents informed about decisions and any updates on potential fee structure changes.
Please remember that all of your firefighters are volunteers and all have a passion to do the best they possibly can to make our district safe and to respond as needed to any emergency. Please tell them “thank you” whenever you get a chance.
The Fort Ellis Fire Service Area is located south east of Bozeman, MT. Our district is comprised of 59 square miles of commercial, suburban, and rural/ agricultural areas.
We are an all-volunteer department serving our district southeast of Bozeman. Our volunteers are committed to providing high-quality emergency response coupled with excellence in customer care.
The Fort Ellis Fire/Rescue 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 above article, showing the Department's 1952 Ford structure fire engine, appeared in the Bozeman Chronicle in about November 1987.