So far the Lolo Peak forest fire is just a distant haze, but fires can change quickly, and it’s best to have a plan.

The Lolo Peak forest fire has raged across Western Montana since July 15, burning over 30,000 acres very close to where I live. Over 1,150 homes have been evacuated with thousands of people looking for temporary shelter. It’s put a catastrophe at the door of our small community and the possible logistics of evacuating are truly frightening.

I admit disaster preparation isn’t high on my list of everyday priorities and as a full-time vent user, it should be. We have a generator for power outages but that isn’t enough for a disaster that forces you from your home. In a catastrophe, there are many things I’d need to survive an evacuation. These include my vents, supplies, numerous medications, nebulizers, feeding tube supplies and my wheelchair, if I’m lucky. Needless to say, I don’t travel light or fast

The next order of business is to actually make it to the shelter. I have an accessible van but if that is out of commission, then I am screwed. Our ambulance service is another option because they have transported me many times. Is the shelter accessible and will they take someone with complex medical needs? I do not feel confident about that answer. Living in a rural and mountainous area really limits your available care options in the best of times. I’d probably end up in the hospital with my extensive need for dedicated power.

Make a Plan Before Disaster Strikes

There really aren’t any good solutions for anybody with a disability who needs to leave their home. Not only will you be away from familiar surroundings but you’ll likely be dealing with first responders who have had zero to little training dealing with any type of disability. Can you explain to them how to move you quickly without injury?

Paul Timmons, CEO of Portlight Strategies, the only organization specializing in disaster preparation for people with disabilities, has seen it all in 16 years. He says the biggest mistake people make is assuming first responders know what they are doing or will do the right thing during evacuations.

If you can’t evacuate, Timmons says make sure you have the medicines and dependable power source you will need for medical equipment. It may force you to be honest with what your actual needs are.

The best thing you can do is make a plan before disaster strikes. Packing a bag with the necessities you will need for a week can save you a great deal of time and effort. If you can, make arrangements for where you will evacuate in a disaster and what you will do with your pets. Most shelters won’t accept pets, so you really need to think about arrangements.

Timmons suggests people form relationships with their neighborhood fire and police departments along with emergency medical providers. Discuss your needs and the equipment you have and how it operates. This may pay dividends if you need to be evacuated. Another thing Timmons says is, don’t believe it when somebody says everything is under control until you can see for yourself.

If you have issues or find a shelter to be inaccessible, Timmons urges you to call Portlight at 843/817-2651.

It looks like the fire bearing down on my area is moving in the other direction, but it’s still a volatile situation for my neighbors. The scary thing is that fire can change direction and that has all of us worried. This ongoing situation has taught me that being prepared is not only a good idea but it just might save your life.