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The Heartbeat of the Community: Volunteers Needed in Three Forks

At a structure fire last Monday afternoon on Ash Street, Three Forks Volunteer Fire Department Chief Keith Aune was in a difficult situation, having to run both the structure engine and incident command.

While the department can have a roster of up to 28, there are currently 12 active volunteers, and according to Aune, they are in a critical state.

"As Chief, I should be in a command vehicle running incident command for the call. Due to the time of the call, I was running the structure engine and running incident command from the side of the engine. It's a lot safer for the incident if the incident command is in their own truck in a quiet area to hear all radio communications in case of an emergency," Aune said.

According to Aune, the firefighters are the lifeline to the department, and stressed the importance of additional volunteers.

"The roster amount is very important to volunteer departments. With a small roster, the amount of personnel for each call is low due to people being at work or other things. The more on the roster, the better chance of more people around town to respond to calls," said Aune. "Personally, I would like to see more firefighters, so we don't have personnel burnout with a lot of calls."

Those interested in learning more are invited to attend the Three Forks Volunteer Fire Department weekly meetings on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. at the Fire Hall at 13 E. Date Street. Aune said they provide training and can find a job for anyone.

According to a post from the department's Facebook page, they completely understand that some people are not fit to do every task, but there is always a task that can be done.

Applications to join the department are available at City Hall or online at Prospective firefighters must also pass a background check.


Barbara Mutter of Three Forks Area Ambulance also discussed the importance of volunteers for the ambulance service, fire department, and other organizations in the community. To Mutter, volunteers are the heartbeat of every community.

"Many folks don't think about all their neighbors that put their heart and soul into so many different facets that make a community their home. Volunteers make up most of the community-based social services. Volunteers are found in everyday places you may not be aware of -- your local fire department, your local ambulance service, churches, libraries, food banks, meals on wheels, animal rescue, shelters, hospitals, museums, Habitat for Humanity, coaches for all the youth sports in town, the Red Cross, and Veteran programs. And there are so many, many more," Mutter said.

In the past five years, Mutter has seen many small independent ambulance services close their doors.

"The rising cost of medical supplies, housing ambulances, medical equipment, and education has skyrocketed. Ambulance Services are not considered an essential service, so Ambulance Services do not receive any funds from property taxes. Three Forks Area Ambulance is funded by insurance payments if TFAA transports a patient to Bozeman Deaconess Hospital that has insurance, and a few donations that come our way," Mutter said. The Three Forks Area Ambulance needs more people to step up to serve. We have an EMT class starting in September. There is financing available, so if you are interested in becoming an EMT, reach out."

With many small-town ambulance services made up of all volunteer staffing, Mutter said those who join must have a medical license to be in an ambulance to provide quality medical care. Mutter added these EMTs must pay out of pocket to volunteer, with the cost of a National Emergency Medical Technician license anywhere between $1,000 to $1,500.

"Volunteer EMTs leave their families on holidays, on their days off, and in the middle of the night to meet that medical or trauma emergency and don't think, 'What's in it for me?', she said.

According to Mutter, 90 percent of all fire departments in the country are served by volunteers.

"These folks leave their families on holidays, on their days off, and in the middle of the night to answer emergency calls. Firefighters don't think 'What's in this for me?' Firefighters go through hours of various training to meet the emergency needs of their neighbors. Many fire departments train in-house to prepare for emergencies," she said.

Mutter has also witnessed a trend of fewer volunteers in Montana and across the country.

"Society has been changing over the years, and volunteerism is going away in our communities across this great country. People are working hard to make ends meet. The everyday stress of raising their children and putting food on the table, not to mention any outside activities they participate in, leaves no time to volunteer," she said.

Those interested in joining the Three Forks Area Ambulance Service can contact Mutter at 406-404-7396 or [email protected].

"Any amount of time a person can give to volunteer makes our community stronger. It could be you or your family member that needs medical care or your property that's on fire. Who will come in your time of need? Who, if not you?" Mutter said.

Headwaters Area Food Bank Operations Manager Emily Smith said the organization could not function without the help of their wonderful volunteers who work with customers, help with grocery rescue, deliver food boxes, and maintain the store.

Those interested in helping at Headwaters Area Food Bank can fill out a volunteer form at the store on Tuesday or Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or Wednesday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The HAFB is located at 216 1st Ave West in Three Forks.

Board members of the Three Forks Chamber of Commerce have also recently raised concerns about the need for more volunteers for the organization. The chamber hopes to find volunteers to fill board seats and help at events throughout the year.

At a July 12 meeting, Board member Karen Greene said Three Forks is a great little small town, but they need volunteers for the events like the Christmas Stroll, Farmer's Market, and Rodeo Dayz, or they will not happen. She added that if they could get 20 to help out instead of 10, it would spread the workload.

"The more people we have, the less they have to do," said Greene. "Even if it's a couple of hours a month, it will help with what we are doing."