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From Humble Beginnings

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Hall Mountain Volunteer Fire Asso. Hall Mountain Volunteer Fire Asso.

Volunteers grow a fire department

Dave Aller started The Hall Mountain Volunteer Fire Association of Boundary County in 1978. Bill Branson, volunteer firefighter, said that he went to the first meeting dead set against it.

“It wasn’t very long into the meeting that I changed my mind,” Branson said. “I ended up joining to help out. And I’ve been a paying member and a firefighter ever since.”

Hall Mountain started with nothing. The community came together and built a hall. The first engine was an army 6x6, with a panel school bus and a shop truck from the Moyie Lumber Company as back up.

“We come from humble beginnings,” Branson said, “and never owed a dime.”

Today, Hall Mountain covers 300 square miles and has approximately 300 subscription members. The yearly fee, $75, provides protection from fire and car accidents with the support of three halls, six fully functioning state of the art fire engines, support vehicles and an ambulance. Hall Mountain also has the only ice rescue sled north of Coeur d’Alene. If they help fight a state land fire or cover a fire for a non-subscription member, they get paid, and that money goes toward purchasing equipment and supplies.

Branson said his first fire was the Sundance Fire in the Idaho Panhandle, which started August 23, 1967 after a lightening storm. On August 29, the fire seemed to be under control, but later that evening, a fierce wind helped it jump the containment lines. Within eight hours, it doubled in size, covering over 2,000 acres. On September 1, fire induced winds reached 95 mph, and the fire ran 16 miles in nine hours. Once it crested the Selkirk Divide, it torched the Pack River drainage and proceeded over Apache Ridge, traveling more than 10 miles in three hours. The fire ravaged 55,910 acres.

“I was at the Sundance fire,” Branson said. “And I served as Mountain Hall fire chief for 18 years. So I’ve fought a lot of fires.”

Branson recently retired from his regular job. Still fit and trim, he attends training sessions for the volunteer firefighters twice a month.

“Last week we practiced for a pack test. You have to be able to carry 27 pounds for a mile in 15 minutes,” he said. “We train to not get hurt, to watch out for wild fires and to be safe.”

Branson said that fighting fires doesn’t scare him.

“I’m not a good swimmer, so I stay away from water,” Branson said. “But I know how to fight fires.”

According to Branson, the worst kind of fire is a house fire because people can lose everything they have.

“Last winter a house burnt down and the owners lost everything,” Branson said. “They didn’t have insurance. If my house burnt down, I’d be all right. But my mom’s secretary and my dad’s saddle, I couldn’t replace them or the memories they carry.”

Ivan Dunnick, Hall Mountain volunteer firefighter for 10 years, said that it’s an honor to be a part of the crew.

“We’re pretty good at putting out fires,” Dunnick said. “We have five or six new firefighters on board. We had a grass fire the other day, which was a good trainer for them. The terrain was difficult, but we got the job done.”

The newest hall, almost complete, was built in Good Grief, Idaho. Branson said that Kathryn, the owner of Good Grief restaurant, donated the land and food for the workers.

“She got insulted every time we tried to pay her,” Branson said. “She said bring hungry workers and I’ll feed them.”

Dunnick said that Kathryn was one of their staunchest supporters.

“She fed the whole crew, sometimes as many as 20 people in one sitting,” Dunnick said. “And the food was incredible.”

The project could not have been completed without the help of Cliff Kramer, who owns Feist Creek Resort. Kramer donated a boom truck, grader, Cat, and dump trucks and refused any compensation.

“He kept asking, ‘when are you going to need me again?’ And he got real mad when we tried to pay him,” Branson said.

The volunteer firefighters noticed that Kathryn was getting low on firewood, so they organized a wood cutting party. Branson said that over 20 people showed up to cut wood. Half of them had to leave in the middle to go put out a fire up the road.

“Even with the interruption, we managed to cut and stack 14 cords of wood. This is a special bunch of people,” Branson said.


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Desire Aguirre Desire Aguirre lives in Sandpoint with her daughter, DaNae, and numerous pets. An LCSC student, she plans on graduating May, 2009, with a bachelors in communication. Her favorite sport is riding her horse, Splash-of-Paint, into the wilderness with Cholo, her son's faithful dog.

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