Though Belgrade’s first representative on the board of the Central Valley Fire District says she is “still green” and has much to learn, her passion for the department’s work and welfare is rooted in her wish to be of service to the firefighters who she describes as her “heroes.”

In the fall of 2018, Tanya Robinson and her husband Len were still in the process of settling into their brand new home of six months in Belgrade’s Ryen Glen subdivision. On the evening of Sept. 13, just as Robinson became aware of a burning electrical odor, neighbors knocked on the door to tell them their house was on fire.

The couple had time to grab only their cat, dog and computer before fleeing the blaze, which began in the garage. One neighbor acted quickly to turn off the gas and electrical service to the house. Someone else called 911, a next-door neighbor offered Tanya a heavy coat, and still more gathered quickly to offer support as the sound of emergency sirens approached.

“I’ve heard the sound so often, and I thought, ‘Here they are to rescue us,’ ” Robinson remembers. “It was a welcome sound.”

Though the couple were able to salvage very little in terms of material items from the fire, Robinson is philosophical about the loss, acknowledging that 

people need to deal with life’s curve balls and move on. The couple have directed their energies into rebuilding and moving back into their home, and Robinson says the experience has enhanced their appreciation for their life in America. The Robinsons came to the United States from South Africa, and lived for many years in California before moving to Montana.

Robinson believes her ability to let go of material losses stems from having lived in her native South Africa, where property crimes are common. She says her love and appreciation for her adopted country – she became a U.S. citizen in 2011 – also motivated her to accept the board position when she was asked to consider it.

“My first thought was, ‘A lady on the fire board?’ But then I thought maybe I can give back and I can serve,” Robinson says.

She speculates that in addition to having benefited personally from the care and compassion of Central Valley personnel, the very organization of fire departments appeals to her reverence for well-structured societies.

“You’ve got to have rules,” she says. “I’m black and white – no gray.”

Nevertheless, she recognizes that authorities also must exercise compassion when enforcing those rules, a trait she speculates she inherited from her police officer grandfather. She says compassion is an essential attribute in good law enforcement agents, just as it is in good firefighters.

“Not everyone can be a firefighter – it requires a special kind of character,” Robinson says. “The amazing way the guys really sacrificed for us and weren’t daunted by the flames was par excellence. There aren’t words in the English language to express my gratitude.”

As a board trustee, Robinson expects to draw upon years of experience working in various municipal departments for the city council in Boksburg, Gauteng, South Africa. She remembers feeling “at home” when she first visited Belgrade City Hall, and expects she will enjoy that feeling of familiarity while engaged in the business of the fire board.

Gallatin County Commissioners appointed Robinson to fill the unexpired term of a retiring board member earlier this month, and she was sworn in on July 14. This is the first time residents of the city have been eligible to serve on the board, following a decisive vote by Belgrade citizens to annex into the Central Valley Fire District in March.

Central Valley Fire Chief Ron Lindroth said Wednesday he is delighted Robinson was willing to join the board, as she brings not only relevant government work experience but also embodies the department’s core value of service. Robinson is eager to accept the challenge, and give back to the firefighters who went “more than the extra mile” for her.

“They are my heroes, they really are,” she says. “I want to do more for my fellow man.”