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Rapid City facing firefighter shortage

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Rapid City Fire Chief Mike Maltaverne says he doesn’t have enough firefighters to answer the growing number of fire and ambulance calls. He has been warning policy makers in memos for three years. Now the Rapid City Fire Department personnel shortage is “significant.”

"We have determined that we are in need of 15 additional personnel to meet national standards and the emergency response needs of the community," he recently wrote Mayor Steve Allender and the Rapid City Council.

To address the shortage, Maltaverne asked the council’s Legal and Finance Committee on Wednesday to allow the department to apply for a grant. That funding, if awarded, could pay for the salary and benefits of nine firefighters for two years.

The city council recently approved unplanned budget transfers to fund three new firefighter positions for six months starting July 1, according to Deputy Chief Rod Seals.

Two of the three new hires will be paid from the enterprise fund, the money collected for ambulance calls. Money for the third position will come from the general fund, collected from property taxes.

Maltaverne noted in his memo that in 1995, the department had 81 firefighters in the Operations Division with a call volume of 3,600 or 44 calls per firefighter. In 2015, the department’s 117 firefighters logged 17,012 calls, or about 145 calls per firefighter.

The committee Wednesday approved the department's request to apply for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response or SAFER grant. The department is requesting $1,076,121 from the organization.

Seals said they expect the organization to start awarding the grants in July or August, with a final answer by October.

Grant rules give selected departments 180 days to have their new firefighters on staff.

RCFD has been addressing the manpower shortage by using several methods to create more efficiency in operations. One example includes coding 911 emergency calls so units can tell how many response personnel are needed instead of sending out a set number to every call.

Seals said the department recently tested applicants for the three new firefighter positions. The process includes a written exam, physical agility test and oral interviews.

Department officials are reviewing the scores and plan to make conditional offers of employment by the end of July. The next recruit academy is set to begin Oct. 3.

The department's SAFER grant application request will be on the agenda for the full city council meeting Monday.

Contact Jennifer Naylor Gesick at 394-8421 or jennifer.naylorgesick@rapidcityjournal.com.

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