The second half of the April 24 meeting of the Glacier County Commission was listed as a “Structure Fire Summit” with the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council. All three Commissioners and Clerk and Recorder Glenda Hall arrived at the Tribal Conference Room. Browning Fire Chief Lyle Rutherford was also on hand, as well as a quintet of Councilmen, including Chairman Harry Barnes, Vice Chair Terry Tatsey, Secretary Tyson Running Wolf and Councilmen Tim Davis and Roland Kennerly Jr.
Also attending were Cheryl Reevis, John Gilham and Jody Running Fisher attended on behalf of the Blackfeet Fire Cache.
“This is an informal meeting for the exchange of information,” Chairman Barnes said in his opening remarks, adding the Tribal Council would take no official action at that time. “We want to make sure the fire department is fully functional and operational, so the meeting today is to look at the ideas and challenges, and how to do it.”
Secretary Running Wolf said an earlier meeting in February focused on present and past structure protection and the roles of the Tribe and County. He asked Fire Chief Rutherford where his funding comes from, said there needs to be a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “hammered out” with Blackfeet Housing, and finally raised the issue of the firefighters’ status as volunteers and whether that should continue.
“Our funding source is a black area,” Rutherford responded, noting the department has some leftover money from Glacier County and enjoys some income from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the schools. He said the volunteers currently number 23, the highest number ever.
Clerk and Recorder Hall said the County has $3,000 earmarked for the BVFD which hasn’t been transferred because she didn’t know who to write the check to.
“There are problems funding a Tribal entity, but we can fund it either way, as a Tribal or public entity…We need transparency as to where the money goes, but we’re willing to do it,” Commissioner Michael DesRosier said.
The County already funds some Tribal entities, Hall added, such as the Eagle Shield Senior Center, which receives around $15,000 annually. Commissioner Ron Rides At The Door said, “It just takes a simple MOU with them, and a money trail for auditing purposes.”
This brought the discussion back to the status of the Browning firefighters when Running Wolf asked if funding the department might be done as a line item through the Fire Cache. “That would help us with transparency,” DesRosier responded, adding the move could open doors to grants and matches.
Returning to the current situation, Running Wolf asked about keeping services going and said getting the Department a gas card would be a priority short term item. Moving on to the issue of insurance, Reevis noted volunteers are not covered by Workman’s Comp, but asked if the same rules would apply to the Tribe’s Self Insurance plan.
“Get your crew together and tell us which direction you want to go,” Running Wolf told Rutherford, whether the fire department should be under Blackfeet Homeland Security or the Fire Cache. Next, he listed the “action items.” First, he said, perhaps the volunteers should become paid employees; then, two people in the Department should get gas cards; and finally the Tribe should obtain an MOU with Blackfeet Housing. Running Wolf said he would look into Workman’s Comp coverage, get Homeland Security involved, and work with Reevis on reallocation of funds.