Belle Fourche Fire Chief Mark Hespe couldn't stop his grin as he added his own presentation to the Belle Fourche Police Department's officer of the year at Wednesday's police open house.

Hespe gave an added gift to Officer Austin Peterson to go with the trophy from Police Chief Rob Hansen.

It was a well-used lunch cooler now labeled with "In case of fire, dump lunch, then fill with water."

That's exactly what Peterson had done with Chief Hansen's lunch box when the two and Officer Jeremy Biegert swam the Redwater River on July 4, 2012, to fight a fireworks-caused brush fire and there was no road access to that side.

Hansen said, "Officer Peterson did not hesitate to dump my lunch out of my cooler and fill it with water, making dozens of water trips to fight this fire."

Tongue-in-cheek, Hansen said, "Without the quick actions of Officer Peterson and his firefighting bucket, we would not have got this fire stopped until the fire department arrived and it would have grown into a significant incident."

Hansen added that when the department arrived, the police were shown an ankle-deep crossing 20 yards downstream.

The chief said Peterson was soaking wet and dirty from the firefighting, but he still headed to his planned July 4 traffic control station during the Roundup.

It was the department's fourth open house.

Hansen said the department this year is fully-staffed with trained and experienced officers who are gaining positive recognition at the state level.

"Our officers have been working long shifts and many extra call outs," he said.

He said, "We often get asked about the rise in crime within our community; I prefer to look at this as growth."

Growth in the community includes population, new companies, more northbound traffic and more calls to police.

Community service is a major role for the department, Hansen said.

"Our main events still include the Holiday Meal Program, Shop with a Cop, and the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics," he said.

Department auxiliary members are working a Valentine's Day project discussed at the open house.

They have Valentine gift selections of cakes, cookies and candies for sale locally. Funds from the project are earmarked for care packages for area military serving overseas.

He said the department recently welcomed Officer Jason O'Connor home from deployment in Iraq and Officer Tom Adams is scheduled for service in Afghanistan. Hansen's daughter just returned from her deployment in Afghanistan.

Hansen praised Officer Jeremy Biegert for his efforts in writing grants that brought in more than $40,000 toward technology for the department.


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