Our Thoughts and Prayers

A tragic event eclipses Western Montana today.

Brent Witham, a Hotshot firefighter, was killed at the Lolo Peak fire — reports indicate that it was caused by a tree-falling.

Montana weeps.

But we also remain thankful. Thankful for the brave and selfless acts Brent lived his life through. Thankful for the brothers and sisters he fights next to. Thankful for the lives we are able to live because of courageous men and women like these courageous men and women.

Thankful for his sacrifice.

This also serves as a reminder. A reminder of how dangerous firefighting truly is. It takes a significant amount of character and valor to protect these beautiful Montana lands. Brent personifies it — as do so many volunteer and employed firefighters across the Big Sky State.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to your friends and family, Brent. Thank you for the example you have set. You will not be forgotten.

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Bill Evan’s Fire Wisdom

IMG_0418.PNG copySometimes, the motivation to volunteer comes from a newspaper ad. Bill Evans, a retired volunteer for the Lewis and Clark County fire department, knows that better than anyone. He served for over 20 years.

“There was an article in the IR [Helena’s Independent Record] seeking volunteers,” explains Evans. “They needed help, and I answered the call.”

But why would a psychiatrist in his 40s really care to serve in the physical, time-demanding environment of volunteer firefighting?

“There can be a certain romantic quality of joining a fire department,” says Evans. “I was very motivated. I played sports in high school and college and wanted to get back in shape. Local gyms weren’t for me. I prefer to be outdoors, and firefighting seemed like a worthwhile call that helped the community.

Evans, like any full time or volunteer firefighter, faced trials in both the physical side of fighting fires and the daunting task of perfecting time-management. Still holding a career as a psychiatrist, Evans had to plan out each week with precision and readiness.

He had to be mentally and physically available to answer the fire call.

“You never know when you’re going to get called out,” says Evans. “Will your school or job allow you some flexibility to go out on calls? Or even in the middle of the night, will you answer it? There has to be a willingness to drop and go.”

Evans, well aware of the need for volunteer firefighters across the big sky state, believes that obtaining volunteers is the easy part. Keeping them is where it gets tough. The overall demandingness of EMT and firefighting leads to an issue he witnessed all too much over his 20 years at the station: drop outs.

He believes the pressing responsibility of firefighting catches most beginning volunteers, particularly those of younger age, off guard.

“Helping a community intrigues them [potential volunteers] but in the reality of volunteer firefighting, it cuts in their time much more than they can handle,” says Evans. “It’s more than other volunteer jobs. It’s a big commitment and it can be a direct interruption to everyday life.”

Evans doesn’t see this as an excuse to avoid volunteering, but more as a reason.

“You have to be prepared for the interruptions” Evans explains. “Again, I think it’s very worthwhile, but you have to know what you’re getting into.”

Evans, an experienced volunteer with over 20 years under his belt, remains grateful for the growth and relationships obtained from firefighting.

He continues to advocate for the service that did so much for him.

“You learn a lot; you learn a tremendous amount,” says Evans. ” I think there is a very good feeling someone can get through helping their community. It’s very powerful and involving. You end up with people you like and respect, and in many cases, you put your life in their hands.”

Evans acknowledges the dangers involved, but he wholeheartedly believes it’s worth it.

“It’s the most powerful type of volunteer work you can do.”

Will you answer the call?