Fort Shaw Fire Chief Dave Anderson remains hospitalized in critical condition at Benefis Health System two days after a collision between two of the department’s fire trucks.
“We’re concerned more about the fire chief’s health than about the loss of any of the vehicles we have,” Assistant Chief Craig Askeland said. “They can be replaced.”
Anderson, driving a water tender with a 3,200-gallon capacity, was responding to a fire near Vaughn on Tuesday afternoon. That vehicle is used to move water to the site of fires. Another firefighter responding to the same fire was driving a 1-ton, four-wheel drive brush truck.
The vehicles collided on U.S. Highway 89.
The Montana Highway Patrol said the driver of the brush truck missed a turnoff en route to the fire and was making a U-turn when it was struck by the water tender.
Following the collision, the Fort Shaw department is without a water tender truck, putting it at a “disadvantage,” Askeland said. Neighboring departments have been notified.
“We will be counting on neighboring departments for immediate water,” Askeland said.
However, Simms volunteers delivered a truck to Fort Shaw to temporarily replace the damaged brush truck, Askeland said.
Both of the vehicles involved in the collision were insured, but not for the full replacement cost of a new vehicle, Askeland said.
The department, which has a very small budget, relies on obtaining equipment at bargain-basement prices, he said. Talented volunteers often build and repair vehicles.
Attracting volunteers can be a challenge in a small rural department, but Fort Shaw has 23. The manpower is more important than the equipment, Askeland said.
“You can have all kinds of top notch equipment and not be able to get people involved to respond to a fire,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate in that we have been able to maintain a pretty healthy firefighter force.”
Members of the 23-volunteer department are pulling together in the wake of the collision, Askeland added.
“We need to continue what we do, even without our fire chief, so everybody’s got to step up to the plate,” he said. “There’s certain things he’s always done and done very well. We’ll just have to fill the gap.”
It’s unclear whether the water tender can be repaired, he said.
The 1991 vehicle with 150,000 miles on it was unique in that it was basically a semi-tractor that the department fitted with a water tank with the help of the Cascade Hutterite Colony.
The brush truck has front-end damage.
A spokeswoman at Benefis Health System said Thursday morning that Anderson’s condition was critical.
Askeland said he spoke to Anderson’s wife Thursday morning. So many people were stopping by to check on Anderson that the family had to stop allowing visitors, he said.
“It’s a wait-and-see type of condition he’s suffering right now,” Askeland said. “The hospital and doctors are doing everything they can to get him back and running. The body has to heal and it takes time. Time and rest.”
The driver of the other vehicle was not injured.
At the time off the collision, Fort Shaw volunteers were responding to a mutual aid fire call from Vaughn.