Arsonist kicks in door, burns Mont. fire hall

Firefighters responded to the station for a vehicle-crash call to find the door kicked in, their truck and gear destroyed and their engine badly damaged


By Megan Strickland
The Daily Inter Lake

KALISPELL, Mont. — Authorities are trying to figure out who broke into the Smith Valley fire hall on Foys Lake Road late Saturday night or early Sunday morning and set a fire that caused massive damage. The fallout is expected to slow response to emergency calls in the area.

Fire Chief D.C. Haas of the Smith Valley Fire Department said firefighters responded to the hall at around 11 a.m. on Sunday morning for an accident call and found that a door had been kicked in and someone had set a rescue truck on fire. The truck was a total loss and a nearby engine sustained serious damage.

Photo courtesy of D.C. Haas

Photo courtesy of D.C. Haas

"Everything is destroyed inside," Haas said.

The fire was contained to the hall, but the destruction included six sets of firefighting turnout gear for both structure and wildland fires, Jaws of Life equipment, water rescue equipment, a defibrillator and other important emergency equipment.

While the fire department still has a main station on U.S. 2, Haas said the loss of the gear will be significant to the department, especially since it occurred on a major holiday weekend when accidents, fires, and other mayhem occur.

"It in itself is a horrific act, plus it's a holiday weekend that is one of our busiest times," Haas said. "We are going to be slower to respond. It's a blow."

Foys Lake Road is also a busy highway where many accidents occur, Haas said. The department is also used to help back up Kalispell and other fire agencies in major emergency situations.

"It's a busy station for us," Haas said.

Haas did not have an immediate dollar estimate of how much damage was caused.

"I couldn't begin to guess a dollar amount," Haas said.

The turnout gear alone costs $1,300 per firefighter.

"I need the people, but I have no means of clothing them or giving them the tools for being successful," Haas said.

An insurance adjuster had not visited the scene as of Sunday afternoon. The fire hall had been remodeled in August 2015 and outfitted with newer equipment and a newer engine.

Haas hopes someone saw something that might lead to the arrest of whoever is responsible.

"It's a horrendous crime," Haas said. "I sure would like to find out who is responsible. It's a crime that affects the community."

The Flathead County Sheriff's Office started an investigation Sunday. Flathead Crimestoppers is also taking information about the crime at flatheadcrimestoppers1@gmail.com and 752-8477.

On the eve of one of the highest call volume nights of the year, the department team was left hoping that the drinking and driving accidents, fireworks mishaps and other typical July 4 calls happen somewhere other than Smith Valley this year.

"We are on pins and needles now," Haas said. "When it comes time to help someone, what are we going to do?"

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(c)2016 the Daily Inter Lake (Kalispell, Mont.)

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