Rapid City firefighters are battling wildfires even though none are burning within city limits.
Some of the city's fire personnel and equipment are helping fight the bigger blazes in the region, according to Rapid City Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne.
"It gets very, very difficult for any one agency to go out and put multiple fires out in their area," Maltaverne said Monday. "What it boils down to is helping your neighbors."
As of Monday morning, 17 Rapid City fire personnel and three engines were assisting with fire operations on the Mrytle Fire near Pringle, the Longhorn Complex on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and the Fairfield Creek Fire in Nebraska, he said.
Sending resources to fires outside of city limits and even the Black Hills is a fairly common practice. Rapid City Fire resources are listed on a national database and are asked to respond when fire officials nationwide put in orders for equipment and personnel, Maltaverne said.
Rapid City firefighters have recently assisted on the devastating fires in Colorado and in recent years helped out on fires in Wyoming, New Mexico, Nebraska and Georgia, he said.
"We’re truly a national resource when it comes to wildfires," Maltaverne said. "They just do a great job and we always get good feedback when they come back from those fires. They work really, really hard."
Being called to complex fires across the country gives Rapid City fire personnel the opportunity to learn, train and gain experience, which they then apply to their firefighting in Rapid City.
"It’s a training and experience opportunity," Maltaverne said. "Our firefighters have the knowledge, the skills and ability to address those fires in the city."
On big fires like the Mrytle Fire and the Longhorn Complex, the fire department is reimbursed for the personnel and equipment it sends to assist, Maltaverne said. The funds are used for equipment and firefighter training.
"That’s not the reason we do it," he said. "We get on the fires. We reduce the loss of life and property."
The fire department limits the number of employees it sends out of the city to 18 at a time, Maltaverne said.
"We have a line in the sand," he said. "That gives us enough staffing to maintain our obligations in our city."
If a major event happens in Rapid City or even the Black Hills, the Rapid City Fire Department will recall those resources to attack fires locally, Maltaverne said. The fire department did that in 2000 when the Jasper Fire started burning west of Custer, he said.
The Rapid City Fire Department will limit the resources it sends out in the next couple of weeks as thousands of bikers ride into the Black Hills for the 72nd Sturgis motorcycle rally.
We’re apprehensive going into the rally. We’re going to be really trying to hit the prevention efforts," Maltaverne said.