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  • Senator Conrad Burns apology to FF's

    Firehouse.com Home > News Headlines

    Montana Senator Apologizes for Criticizing Firefighters
    Updated: 07-28-2006 09:31:52 AM
    Associated Press

    Sen. Conrad Burns apologized Thursday for criticizing a firefighting team for their work on a blaze in southern Montana, saying his frustration came from a meeting with upset landowners.

    Burns confronted members of a Virginia firefighting team at an airport and told them they had done a "poor job," according to a state official's report obtained Thursday.

    "In retrospect, I wish I had chosen my words more carefully," Burns said in a statement. "My criticism of the way the fire was handled should not have been directed at those who were working hard to put it out."

    Members of the "hotshot" wildfire crew said Burns confronted them in the Billings airport Sunday while they were awaiting a flight home, according to a report by Paula Rosenthal, a state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation employee.

    The firefighters said Burns told them they had done a "poor job" and should have listened to the concerns of ranchers, the report said.

    "My frustration came from meeting with landowners who were critical of the way the fire was handled," Burns said. "Whatever the reason, I should have simply thanked those who worked hard to put out the fire."

    The hotshot crew was battling a 143-square-mile wildfire near Pompeys Pillar National Monument, east of Billings. The blaze started July 12 and was contained last week.

    Rosenthal, who prepared her report at the direction of agency supervisors, said she was sent to the airport to meet with Burns after reports of an "altercation."

    "The toughest part of the conversation was the point where the senator was critical of a firefighter sitting across from us in the gate area," Rosenthal wrote. "I offered to the senator that our firefighters make around $8 to $12 an hour and time-and-a-half for overtime. He seemed a bit surprised that it wasn't higher."

    She said Burns also was concerned and upset about the "command and control" system for firefighting efforts and made "several comments about us `not letting ranchers fight the fire on their own land.'"

    She said she responded that that safety is always a priority.

    "He replied, `We're fighting a war on terror and we're concerned about safety there too, but we're out there doing it,'" Rosenthal wrote.

    The superintendent of the hotshot team, Jeff Koenig based in Staunton, Va., confirmed his team encountered Burns at the airport, but referred questions to spokeswoman JoBeth Brown.

    Brown said members of the team who were present "have chosen not to say anything more about this."

    "They're firefighters first," she said, "and they're really just interested in fighting fire."

    Bob Harrington, forestry division administrator for the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said Thursday that Rosenthal's conversation with Burns was cordial. However, Harrington said the firefighters reported a less cordial exchange with the senator.

    "I wasn't present for that, nor was Paula, but it is my understanding from discussions that there was some level of lively discussion, shall we say?" Harrington said. He declined to elaborate.

    Casey Judd, business manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, which represents federal firefighters, said he was disappointed Burns confronted the hotshot team.

    "We have expressed our support for him in the past," Judd said. "But to make a point of blistering a bunch of hotshots, it's really disconcerting."

    Burns, a Republican facing a tough re-election challenge this fall, said Thursday he has since addressed his concerns about the fire's handling to the proper officials.

    "Please accept my apology for any hard feelings that my comments may have caused," Burns said. "I have the utmost respect for the job firefighters have done in Montana."

    Maybe next time he will think before inserting his foot into his mouth

    Never Forget 9-11-2001

    Stay safe out there!

    IACOJ Member

  • #2
    Sorry jumped off topic for a minute.

    This guy is real smart ticking off firefighters during election year.............I would say he probally will not be elected to office again. I dont understand how they say they have the opmost respect for firefighters but yet they jab a knife in your back with statements like he has made. Will watch and see how this unfolds.


    • #3
      I believe Mikeylikesit is all set now. I'll let the WebTeam elaborate if they want to.

      Never Forget 9-11-2001

      Stay safe out there!

      IACOJ Member


      • #4
        Sorry folks we took care of Mikey. It was in the middle of some others posting threads every few minutes so misread and apologize FOR THAT ONE, not the other legitimate ban.

        Enjoy the weekend, back to the topic...



        • #5
          Lets try this again

          Sorry Senator Conrad Burns (R) Montana. Your lame apology dosent cut it.


          • #6
            Burns apologizes to firefighters
            By GWEN FLORIO
            Tribune Capitol Bureau

            HELENA — U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., grappled with new criticisms Thursday after a state report said he approached a wildland firefighting crew in the Billings airport and told them they'd "done a poor job" battling area blazes.

            Paula Rosenthal, a state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation employee, wrote in her report that she went to the airport on Sunday after hearing "that an altercation was occurring between Senator Conrad Burns and a hotshot crew."

            "In retrospect, I wish I had chosen my words more carefully," Burns said in a statement issued Thursday night. "My criticism of the way in which the fire was handled should not have been directed at those who were working hard to put it out."

            Burns' earlier remarks were seized upon both by firefighters — "Why should Burns comment to hotshots except to say 'THANK YOU VERY MUCH?'" was one missive on an Internet message board for firefighters — and Democrats, who view Burns' Senate seat as among those most vulnerable in November elections.

            State Democratic Party Chairman Dennis McDonald, a rancher and volunteer firefighter, demanded an apology.

            The incident with the hotshot crew, first reported Thursday in Lee Newspapers, happened a day after Burns attended a meeting of ranchers affected by fires near Pompeys Pillar east of Billings. Several of those ranchers were upset at the way the fires were managed.

            Burns' spokesman Matt Mackowiak said that the senator's conversation with the Virginia hotshot crew was "part of an inquiry (about the fires) that happened at the airport. He has made additional inquiries at senior levels in Washington."

            Bob Harrington of the DNRC, who handled calls about the incident on Thursday, said he'd heard the exchange between Burns and the firefighters was "lively."

            Upon hearing of the exchange, Rosenthal went immediately to the airport to talk with Burns and the crew "to try and get an understanding of what was going on," he said.

            "We typically don't have these types of exchanges," Harrington added.

            Firefighters around the region were frosted at reports of the incident.

            "Why in the backdrop of an airport in Eastern Montana, bash the brave men and women on loan to us, whose only responsibility on the fire was to take orders?" wondered Kurt E. Bushnell, president of the Montana State Firemen's Association, in a statement about the issue.

            Casey Judd, the business manager for the Federal Wildland Fire Service Association, which is an employee association for federal wildland firefighters, called the incident "frustrating."

            "I think it is demoralizing. These are mostly young folks," he said of the firefighters. "They could be working at some municipality and making a whole heck of a lot more money, and here they are, using hand tools and cutting line and getting blindsided."

            Judd suggested that Burns "should come out and cut some line and spend a week or two away from home, off the clock, and lay in the dirt."

            The association links to a Web site, www.wildlandfire.com, that contained heated comments about the incident Thursday.

            Democrats, meanwhile, seized upon the incident as more proof for their contention that Burns, a three-term Republican incumbent, is out of touch with his constituents.

            McDonald characterized the remarks as "outrageous insults," and Burns' Democratic opponent, state Sen. Jon Tester of Big Sandy, said that "it is the responsibility of every Montanan to support our firefighters and let them do their jobs."

            Burns and Tester are in a tight race and despite his incumbency, Burns' ratings in various polls remain low.

            A Survey USA poll of 600 Montana voters taken in mid-July ranks Burns last among all the senators in terms of net job approval in their home state, with only 37 percent polled liking the job he's doing, compared to 57 percent who don't. His Survey USA net approval ranking has hovered around 99 and 100 since January. Last August, he was ranked 92nd out of 100 senators.

            Judd suggested that Burns sided with the ranchers because they have more political clout than firefighters.

            According to Rosenthal's report, Burns told the hotshots that "running these fires out of Boise is ridiculous. The government needs to listen to ranchers."

            Boise is the home of the National Interagency Fire Center, which coordinates wildland firefighting efforts.

            Betty Tempero, who ranches near Pompeys Pillar, said she agrees with that assessment.

            "We don't mean to criticize, but landowners know the terrain and know the area" and should be able to give suggestions as to where fires might best be fought, she said.

            She and her husband, Clair, lost 75 percent of their grazing land to the fires and are shipping all of their cattle to leased land in Sand Springs, about 150 miles away, she said.

            Contact Gwen Florio at 406-442-9493, or gfloriogreatfal.gannett.com

            According to other published reports the actual line from the good senator was.... “See that guy over there? He hasn’t done a God-damned thing. They sit around. I saw it up on the Wedge fire and in northwestern Montana some years ago. It’s wasteful. You probably paid that guy $10,000 to sit around. It’s gotta change.’’
            IAFF-IACOJ PROUD


            • #7
              The view From Here............

              Maryland is NOT Montana. And, I am not running for office, nor am I trying to get the Montana rancher's support for anything. Having said that, The Forest Service needs an overhaul. As one who has Been To, Fought, Watched, and Managed Wildfires, I know just a bit about them. And I am far from convinced that our present system is adequate for the job at hand. While I don't intend to monday morning quarterback a Fire, and certainly not show disrespect to some good people, I do think the current SYSTEM needs to be replaced. Following criticism from Fires some years back, promises were made, but not followed up with action. There is absolutely no reason to import Firefighters from out of the Country, when Tens of Thousands of American firefighters are sitting around unused. Same thing for Apparatus. Several years ago in Arizona, the world watched as whole towns were threatened, and some lost, as a huge Fire swept across part of the state. A constant refrain from the Fire Area was "We don't have enough apparatus to protect structures." The duration of the Fire was such that Apparaus could have been driven from Maine and Florida to Arizona, and still been used there for a week or more. Federal "Procedures" would not allow this. Stupid.
              Last edited by hwoods; 07-29-2006, 02:08 PM.
              Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
              In memory of
              Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
              Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

              IACOJ Budget Analyst

              I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.



              • #8
                Harve you never blame the troops for the shortcomigs of the leadership. The Senator was way out of line.
                IAFF-IACOJ PROUD


                • #9

                  Originally posted by MIKEYLIKESIT
                  Harve you never blame the troops for the shortcomigs of the leadership. The Senator was way out of line.
                  We Agree. Absolutely. I hope my post wasn't taken as condoning the Senator's actions.
                  Never use Force! Get a Bigger Hammer.
                  In memory of
                  Chief Earle W. Woods, 1912 - 1997
                  Asst. Chief John R. Woods Sr. 1937 - 2006

                  IACOJ Budget Analyst

                  I Refuse to be a Spectator. If I come to the Game, I'm Playing.



                  • #10
                    Harve ....We ALWAYS agree ...lol (at least to be agreeable when we disagree)
                    IAFF-IACOJ PROUD


                    • #11
                      My opinion

                      Is this guy for real. Ok people that live on the land that is burning do know the land better, but most of them don't know anything about wildfires. I myself don't know much about them but I do know that their are several factors on the growth of the fire. Factors such as heat, wind, the sun, available fuels, and many other things. If i was on a hotshot crew and some rancher started telling me what to do I would tell him to fight the fire since he knows it all. All the rancher is worried about is his house and the local TSC. After that he doesn't care what happens to the rest of the community so why should we put this guy in charge? this senator needs to apologize to the brave people that put it on the line to protect his state.
                      It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog.


                      • #12
                        This nut has been a senator for 18 years, is from MT originally and should know how fires are fought. I have voted for him due to lack of serious competition in the past, but that ended with this episode. Most senators would thank fire crews they encounter, but this jerk insults them? From the people i have talked to, he just single handedly turned a hotly contested senate race into a landslide for the other guy.
                        I wish to apologize for helping to elect this piece of work to represent MT. He is NOT representative of most of the people here.


                        • #13
                          I think the Senator needs to take a NIMS class. If he is voting for laws that require the training so that all people from local to federal are on the same page he should be too. If he is a 18 year Senator, you would think he would know how the system works in western wildfires and who he needs to talk to with concerns. (Even without taking the NIMS Class.) You don't confront a "mutual aid" type crew that just busted butt to help matters under the direction of the Incident Commander. I hope the people of his state hold him accountable for his actions. He should be a man, take responsibility for his comments and go where ever he needs to and apologize to the actual people he talked to in the airport. Not some newpaper article in another state they will never see.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MIKEYLIKESIT
                            Harve you never blame the troops for the shortcomigs of the leadership. The Senator was way out of line.
                            The Senator has acknowledged that and apologized. At least his tiraid brought the real problem out in to the open a little more.
                            Be for Peace, but don't be for the Enemy!
                            -Big Russ

                            Learn from the mistakes of others; you won't live long enough to make them all yourself.

                            Originally posted by nyckftbl
                            LOL....dont you people have anything else to do besides b*tch about our b*tching?


                            • #15
                              Burns is a grandstanding moron politician (most of the big time ones are IMO) trying to get some cheap votes by "sticking up for" the local folks who suffered a huge fire which just happens to be sight of (literally) the only big city (not that big, 100,000 or so) in the state of Montana.

                              It backfired (no pun intended) to an incredible degree and likely cost him many thousands of votes in what is a tight election race.

                              Another factor may be that one Rancher to lost 68 of 70 sections on his ranch and 30-70 head of cattle (reports varie) is a hard core active republican and a freind of Burns.

                              Burns knows nothing of fighting fire, I know this from personal experience. It was 2-3 years ago when the State of Montana spent 72 million dollars on wildfire, majority of it going to contracted fire engines and crew from out of state. This really made zero sence to me and I wrote a 5 page letter stating this and outlining some possible solutions. I sent it to all 3 of MTs DC politicians, Burns being one of them. The other 2 had decent responses, with Rehburg actually discussing the issue and lamenting the buricratic momentum that has messed up the Federal Fire service and wildfire issues in general. Burns sent a responce also...ABOUT NAFTA!!!! The Jerk sent me a mass coppied NAFTA letter.

                              Burns knows nothing of fire fighting, ignor the moron, vote for Tester if you live in MT. I am not a political person, but this guy needs to go.

                              Now back to the issue at hand...widlfire, the feds, the locals...not working well at all.

                              1 The fire ecology is majorly screwed up on 99% of forest land. Its supposed to burn on a regular basis...supress fires for 100 years...you get what you sow. Management of forest lands needs to be fixed.

                              2 Feds seem to dispise locals. Before you get excited hear me out. I have been volly MT fire since 1993, I worked for Interagency (USFS, BLM, and DNRC) for 3 years while going to college, I now work in emergency management. I have seen all sides of the coin, and I have to say that the Feds approach to working with local resources and people is lacking in huge ways. Especially when you bring in an team to work a big fire from out of state. They act like the locals dont exist and like they are little kings of their temporary little world. Not NIMS or team spirit or a good way of doing business with the locals. I have scene this more times then I have seen a good situation and I believe this is the norm.

                              3 IA resources. The IA resources for much of the state and Fed lands in MT is lacking severly. There needs to be more people, engines, and aircraft on these fires when they are small. But its expensive...or is it? By keeping the fires small by having more IA resources on hand you would prevent the 20 Type 6 long trains of out of state contracted engines which eat up a LOT of money.

                              The most cost effective way of beefing up IA resources is not by getting more green or white type 6 engines with college kids sitting around waiting for the call.

                              The way to increase the effectiveness of IA in MT and other rural areas is form the roots up. Get the local counties, VFDs, etc...built up to the point where they can hit hard and fast and keep the catestrophic fires to a minimum.

                              I personally know VFDs with 40's and 50's vintage apparatus which is dangerous in every way to operate, completely unreiable, and woefully ill equiped...small wonder they loose a fire once in a while. But even with such difficult conditions I would estimate a 95% catch record with a few fires needing mutual aid and a few getting into the catestrophic category.

                              If they coudl get there with a little more and a little faster...then we might see a 99% catch rate.

                              There needs to be a lot of fixing, tweaking, changine of institutional momentum, feds working from the bottom up instead of top down, etc...

                              But Burns yelling at a shot crew (far from lazy, underpaid, overworked IMO) is not going to solve anything...except getting him fired from his cushy job of represeting MT in DC.
                              -Brotherhood: I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
                              -Mistakes: It could be that the purpose of you life is to serve as a warning to others.

                              -Adversity: That which does not kill me postpones the inevitable.

                              -Despair: Its always darkest before it goes Pitch Black.


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