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Judge rules board may appoint new Bridger Canyon fire chief

By Katherine Mozzone, KTVM Reporter, kmozzone@ktvm.com
Published On: Jun 24 2013 08:40:51 PM MDT
BOZEMAN, Mont. -

The plaintiff's attorney tried to make the case that former fire chief Dan Astrom's resignation and the multiple firefighters who left with him, resulted in inadequate protection for the residents of Bridger Canyon. She told the judge the board then prematurely pushed him out, but the judge finally ruled it was Astrom's decision to make and the board's responsibility to fill the vacated position.

It was a packed courtroom for day two of the Bridger Canyon Fire Department hearing to decide whether Chief Dan Astrom would stay on board as chief.

More than once, attorneys asked  Bridger Canyon Rural Fire District Board of Trustees Chairman Mike Conn whether he would mediate with firefighters and former Chief Astrom.

While he told them he was happy to talk things through with firefighters he says, not with Astrom.

"It seems to be an unworkable situation and, based on the testimony here Friday, he's had this problem since 2008. It just doesn't seem like a good probability for a solution," explains Conn.

When Astrom resigned from his volunteer position, a number of firefighters followed suit, leaving only six pager firefighters in the department.

But Board of Trustees Chairman Mike Conn says, along with the help of mutual aid, that's enough to handle most of their calls.

"Staffing on the 22nd probably could have handled 98 percent of the calls we received in a 55 month period," says Conn.

Already the department has seen 11 new recruits and a new candidate for fire chief.

"We're making good headway. We have enthusiastic volunteers. We're trying to recruit people that live in the canyon that have a vested interest in the department and protecting property," Conn explains.

Before he made his ruling, Judge Mike Salvagni demanded to know why the court was responsible for determining who should be chief.

"What authority does the court have to tell the board of trustees who the chief is going to be, the name of the person of the chief?" asked Salvagni.

He finally ruled the court would not make that decision.

Conn testified that a new candidate submitted his resume for fire chief, Mark Story. It's not clear whether the firefighters who left with Astrom, then returned, will stay with the department.