|January 23, 2014
Curtiss Matt built a strong fire prevention foundation for CSKT
Curtiss Matt tends to a grass fire for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. (courtesy photo)
PABLO — In the fall of 2001, Curtiss Matt was hired on at the Division of Fire as the Fire Prevention Specialist for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. At that time, fire prevention on the Flathead Indian Reservation consisted of a Fire Danger sign along Highway 93 in Ronan, local parades, an annual Fire Prevention/ high school athlete poster contest, a few school visits, and a burn permit system that issued a couple hundred permits annually. Curtiss took the scraps that defined our program, constructed a Fire Prevention Plan, and began building a foundation for the diverse and well-rounded Prevention program we have on the reservation today.
“He contributed to the development of our current program and was one of the biggest advocates for wildfire prevention in Indian Country.” Sam Scranton, BIA Prevention Lead- NIFC.
Curtiss’s passion for keeping the communities within and around the Flathead Reservation prepared for wildfire was illustrated by his creative outreach strategies as well as his willingness to try new things. Under Curtiss’s direction, CSKT’s prevention program greatly diversified and expanded. The prevention program installed numerous “Fire Danger” signs at all points of entry onto the Flathead Indian Reservation. Curtiss recognized signs should be placed at key recreational areas like the South Fork of the Jocko gate. Curtiss also secured funds to install signs at Rural Fire Department Stations across the Flathead Indian Reservation. However, Curtiss would only install the signs if the RFD met with the CSKT Prevention Staff to discuss scene protection and person-caused fire response protocols in case a fire needs to be investigated. Rollins RFD met with Curtiss and his Prevention staff, Bob McCrea CSKT Division of Fire Operations Specialist, and Jeremy Pries from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in mid-December to discuss scene protection, jurisdictional issues, and other critical person caused scene protocols designed to assist in the investigative process. Rollins RFD is scheduled to receive a sign this spring.
From his experience, Curtiss also recognized the need to increase the collaboration among various agencies, organizations, and land ownerships to work together in order to mitigate and prevent wildfire on the reservation. To achieve this goal, Curtiss helped to initiate the Flathead FireSafe Council with FireSafe Montana in 2011. Curt also brought in the Student Conservation Association to conduct Home Assessments and visited with church groups, including the Amish community in the St. Ignatius area.
As the head of the council, Curtiss was a key organizer in FireSafe Montana’s Wildfire and Communities workshop that took place April of 2012 in Polson. The primary emphasis for this workshop was to incorporate the diverse stakeholders from around western Montana and create an opportunity for them to learn from each other. Participants included members from federal, tribal, state, and local agencies and organizations in conjunction with volunteer fire departments, insurance agents, fire scientists, forestry experts, and other Fire Safe Councils.
After the conference Curtiss said enthusiastically, “I think this conference was a milestone in organizing different public segments into one place and providing productive concerns about wildfires and its results, I hope that this becomes an annual event.”
Curtiss Matt and Fred Roullier spray down an area during a 2003 fire (courtesy photo)
Curtiss had a passion for children. He felt that the best way to get adults to change a habit was through educating children on the importance of preparing and preventing fire. A favorite moment that Curtiss recently shared was when one of the dads of a kid he had taught earlier in the week came up to him and said, “You cost me a lot of money!” Curtiss proceeded to explain that the child had gone home and started telling his dad all the things he had learned and what they needed to change around their home to be prepared for the next wildfire.
Curtiss engaged the school communities in many ways. He encouraged classrooms to come to the Division of Fire so the kids could meet the fire fighters and spray water from the fire trucks. He made it a priority that Smokey visited all of our community public schools to spread Smokey Bear’s message across the Reservation, and in 2012 he hosted the first ever Smokey Bear Poster Contest. He loved to hear the children laugh and see their faces light up with excitement when Smokey entered the room. Thirteen schools across the Flathead Indian Reservation participated in the Smokey Bear Poster Contest and over $2,000 of prizes were donated by local businesses. The Award Banquet to announce the winners last fall at the KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson, attracted more than 100 people and was the highlight of the 2012 Prevention campaign on the Flathead Indian Reservation.
Curtiss was an active member of BIA Prevention Teams and routinely traveled to a western Indian Reservation in need as a Prevention Team Member. Curt enjoyed these details and brought valuable information home to improve his own Prevention Program.
Curtiss was proud of his Salish ancestry and was very interested in preserving our past while educating our future with some of the Informational Kiosks he erected over the past year.
“He revered his Elders,” said Jim Steele retired FMO CSKT/ FHA. “He told many stories of growing up in Arlee and talked about the old people, what they said, did, where they went as well as the old trails and landmarks long forgotten. He respected their opinions and ways.”
Curtiss applied his feelings and believed in his work. “He loved the Flathead River,” Steele said. “What hurt Curtiss more than anything was the disrespect of the river and associated areas … He always wanted to regulate use and control where people camped. He felt the old corrals and buildings should be protected. He also wanted Painted Rocks protected and used as an educational site.”
Curtiss worked with the Preservation Committee, Tribal Recreation, Tribal Forest Development, and the Montana Highway Department to construct day use areas in the Painted Rocks area to restrict access to the Painted Rocks, and erected an information kiosk at the boat launch connecting our ancestors with the current and future generations. Curt’s program was also working on an informational Kiosk in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Bison Range. The Kiosk is erected at the Visitor Center near the antler pile. The Prevention Program again has worked with our elders to provide a message with an ancestral theme demonstrating the many uses of fire by our ancestors.
Curtiss Matt joined the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s Forestry Department family in December of 1991 as a forestry technician. His primary duties were in the preparation of timber sales and to participate in wildland fire suppression and prescribed fire operations. In 1994, he decided to go back to college and attended the University of Montana and attained a Bachelors of Science degree in Forest Resource Conservation in August of 1996. During his time in forestry, Curtiss was also a member of a team of forestry folks that were responsible for the re-measurement of the tribes’ Continuous Forest Inventory Plots. It was not well known that Curtiss had earned a Bachelors of Arts in Education degree from the UM back in 1973.
Curtiss will certainly be remembered as a person that enjoyed his job, both in forestry and in fire prevention.