Lanesborough firefighters sent west to help in national forest


LANESBOROUGH -- Two town firefighters shipped out to Montana this week to join "attack squad" tasked with preventing conflagrations in a national forest.

Cousins Max and Jonathan Lacasse were among 22 state and municipal firemen tapped by the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s (DCR) Bureau of Forest Fire Control and Forestry for the cause.

Their assignment is to stymie wildfires caused by lightning strikes in the Lolo National Forest in Missoula, Mont., where conditions conducive to fire -- high heat and low humidity -- presently exist.

"It’s a unique assignment," said Dave Selino, DCR’s chief fire warden, in an interview Friday. "[The Lacasses] will be chasing down these fires in their initial stages, before they’re off to the races."

Selino said their squad of roughly 20 will be highly mobile, transported via helicopter and other all-terrain vehicles and traversing "steep, rugged terrain" on foot.

Hundreds of lightning strikes have been registered in the forest recently, Selino said. Firefighters working behind the scenes direct squads like the Lacasses to where they occur, or recreational forest users tip them off. The Lolo National Forest covers more than 2 million acres.

It marks the third time Max has taken on such an assignment and the first time for Jonathan.

"We’re certainly proud of both of them; they represent us well," said Butch Garrity, deputy chief of Lanesborough Fire Department. "There’s no room for fooling around out there. If Max wasn’t top notch, they wouldn’t keep asking him to come back."

In order to volunteer, the two needed "Red Card" certifications, acquired by completing the National Wildfire Coordinating Group Basic Firefighter course.

As part of the course, firefighters must hike three miles with a 45-pound pack on their backs in less than 45 minutes. Hours of class time are also required. The Lacasses took the course in town three years ago.

"We run a pretty solid crew," Selino said. "Our safety record has been outstanding. ... [The Lacasses] are among our staples."

The pair flew out Wednesday and will remain for a total of 14 to 16 days.

A DCR press release Friday said Massachusetts can afford sending out the help because fire indices in the East have remained relatively low. By contrast, "There are currently 34 uncontained large fires burning throughout the west, and fire resources are stretched thin," it reads. Massachusetts firemen and women were also sent to Alaska and West Virginia.

Said Lanesborough Fire Chief Charlie Durfie, "It makes me proud to be the chief of these guys. ... I know they’re excited. They thrive on it."

To reach Phil Demers:
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On Twitter: @BE_PhilD


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