Posted: Jun 12, 2013 4:53 PM by KBZK
BOZEMAN - More than a dozen volunteer firefighters are back on the job at the Bridger Canyon Rural Fire Department after a judge temporarily reinstated the department's chief and authorized him to bring back other volunteer firefighters.
After the judge's order came down on Tuesday, Chief Dan Astrom said he called the firefighters who left with him. So far, 16 have agreed to come back and he's just waiting to hear back from another one, he said. That number includes a firefighter who resigned earlier this year and agreed to return.
Judge Mike Salvagni ordered the temporary reinstatement of Astrom after three Bridger Canyon residents filed a lawsuit against the fire department's board of trustees, claiming the board didn't notify residents of a meeting and is not providing adequate personnel for the residents in the fire district.
About 1,600 people live in the district and there are more than 400 homes. Before this week's reinstatement, just five firefighters were left, according to Astrom.
A rift reportedly formed between the board and firefighters in 2012 over the fire district's no-alcohol policy in the firehouse. The chief and most of the firefighters wanted to maintain the no-alcohol policy for public safety and liability issues, but, at least at first, the board supported revising the policy to allow alcohol, according to court papers.
"Although the Board voted against changing the no-alcohol policy in December 2012, a contentious relationship formed between the Board and the firefighters, which became progressively worse," the complaint filed by residents states.
The residents who filed the suit claim that the board created a hostile environment that made it "intolerable" for Astrom to perform his duties as fire chief. They say Astrom and 15 volunteer firefighters were "constructively discharged" between May 20 and 22.
The suit also alleges that the board did not give public notice of a meeting held on May 22 during which the board decided it would not participate in mediation. The suit claims action taken during that meeting is void.
A hearing on the case is set for June 21.