Local woman fulfilling her dreams of being a firefighter

By Tammy Seimears
Madison News – March 16, 2017
Submitted by Newz Group – April 4, 2017

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Montana Thompson knew from the time she was a little girl that all she wanted to be when she grew up was a firefighter. “I don’t know for sure when it started,” she said, “I remember drawing fire trucks back in Kindergarten.”

Thompson, a 2016 Madison High School graduate, has always dreamed of being a firefighter and now she’s getting that chance. Thompson is a first year student in the Fire Science program at Hutchinson Community College, a two-year associate’s degree program. Last week, she was deployed, along with students in her class, to help fight wildfires north of Hutchinson.

Thompson explained that things lined up just right for her to qualify to go out on the wildfires as a student. She had already completed Fire Fighting 1 last semester, with hands-on training in a burn tower on how to put structure fires out properly and other tactical aspects of fighting fires. A state board exam was required to pass the class. This semester, she’s in Wildland, which focuses on fighting wildfires, how the weather factors into fire behavior and how to effectively navigate the effects of topography surrounding the fire location. Students who had already received their Fire Fighting 1 certification and were currently enrolled in Wildland were chosen first to deploy on the Hutch fires.

Thompson recalled being in town Monday evening and feeling the wind switch. “All of a sudden the entire sky lit up red. I knew I had to go.” As luck would have it, Thompson was informed about the grass rig from Madison that had been deployed to Hutchinson last Monday. Two Madison firefighters, Tim Melton and Jacob Knobloch, had driven the truck to Hutch to assist. Thompson requested to be assigned to their crew. Each truck had three crew members with three trucks assigned to a squad; two grass rigs and a tinder–a truck that is solely used for refilling the grass rigs with water. Thompson and Knobloch manned the hoses on the rear of the truck, while Melton drove. The Madison grass rig was assigned with trucks from Nemaha County and Osage County. A Severy truck was also deployed to Hutchinson, as well as Greenwood County Emergency Manager Levi Vinson.

The crews gathered first at the command post, which was located in the Hutchinson Fire Training Center, for briefing early last Tuesday morning. After getting instructions and a map of where the fire lines were, they headed out for a long day, till 9:00 that night. Thompson’s crew was assigned to Division C, and was sent to monitor and put out hot spots behind the front lines, where the fire had already burned. She commented that the fire had burned through so hot, that even the top layer of sand on the ground had burned, leaving the ground black and barren. She described a few hairy spots, when things would re-ignite and flare up. In one place, a line of cedar trees had lit back up and was threatening a nearby house. As the fire began to grow, the crews on the ground looked up just in time to see one of the helicopters air-drop a 600 gallon bucketful of water directly on top of them. “I yelled at Tim to get the windows up,” said Thompson. But it was too late; they were soaked to the bone. That would happen five more times in a row. They were drenched, but the tree line was out. It made a long day, but it was rewarding to be able to help.

Thompson said that her uncle, Mike Holcer, was a big influence on her when she was growing up. He is the Chief of a volunteer fire department in Missouri. “He talked to me about being a firefighter all the time,” she added. But her desire to fight fires started even before that. “We’ve been told that when we’re interviewing for a job, they’ll ask us why we want to be a firefighter. Did something happen in our lives to make us do this,” explained Thompson. “It didn’t happen like that for me. I’ve just always wanted it.”

Thompson’s goal is to work for a fire department in a big city, like Kansas City or Wichita. Part of the requirements to be a professional firefighter is to maintain an active EMT certificate. In smaller cities like Emporia, all firefighters are EMT’s as well. While Thompson is glad for the training, her passion is in firefighting and not so much the EMT side. A bigger city has those areas separate, so she could focus primarily on firefighting, especially in high-rises or big buildings. “This is going to sound crazy,” she said, “but seeing these huge buildings and structures like skyscrapers and big grain elevators makes me realize there are things so much bigger than me, and I get to conquer them.”

As soon as she turned 18, Thompson asked to join the Madison Fire Department. “I grew up here, went to school here, I wanted to serve here,” she said. When she’s home from college, she lives with her parents, Troy and Michelle Thompson, west of Hartford. Thompson is an active member of the Hartford Fire Department. She is planning on taking classes during the summer and is hoping for an early graduation.

 

Posted by Gwen Dorr Romine, KSFFA Webmaster
http://www.ksffa.com
KSFFA’s Fire News Blog Home Page

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