For Immediate Release - August 25, 2000
Contact: Anastasia Burton
(HELENA) -- From a truckload of Fig Newtons to cases of nasal spray, foam fire retardant for homes and about 100 telephone long-distance calling cards, residents throughout Montana and across the U.S. are reaching out to help fire fighters in Big Sky Country.
Last Friday, the state began staffing two separate hot lines -- one to provide general information with regard to fire-related issues and assistance programs, and one to track donations and offers of assistance. Through midday Thursday, the resource line had logged about 309 calls and the donations line about 146, of which about one-third were entered into a computer system of items that could be needed soon. Many of the other donation calls were referred to volunteer organizations active in providing assistance to affected citizens.
The Fire Assistance Hotline number is 1-800-237-5079 or 444-7825; the TDD number is (406) 444-1421. The Donation Hotline is 1-800-505-7751 or 444-0400.
The state also last week initiated a website on the Internet to provide resource and referral information as well as advice on fire-related questions. That site (http://newslinks.state.mt.us/recovery.shtml) had received nearly 15,000 inquiries through Thursday.
"It is heart-warming to be part of this and see the response from people, not only those who call, but also from state employees who volunteered for this project," said Susan Ramsey of the Department of Public Health and Human Services. Ramsey's regular job involves supervising a customer service call center for the department's Child Support Enforcement Division.
Presently, however, she and a handful of other supervisors are overseeing employees from various state agencies who jumped at the offer of helping with the fire project. "We've got folks from Justice, Administration, Revenue, Public Health ... you name it," Ramsey said.
Typical calls to the resource line include questions about road closures, air quality and employment opportunities. There have been a few more pressing calls -- a woman seeking assistance replacing her personal oxygen tanks, a community leader seeking leads on a generator for his community, and a fire chief seeking legal advice on how to squelch a large outdoor picnic.
Calls have been logged from New Jersey, Arizona, Minnesota, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Michigan, California, Texas, parts of Canada and just about every part of Montana.