Black Hills firefighters stretched thin as population grows

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The growth of Rapid City and the surrounding area led to volunteer fire departments seeing an increase in calls in 2017.

In the Black Hills, the Rapid City Fire Department and Ellsworth Air Force Base are the only two career fire agencies, with most agencies being volunteer.

In South Dakota, 92 percent of fire protection is accomplished by volunteers. Many of the volunteer departments surrounding Rapid City broke records in call volume, including Rapid Valley, Rockerville, Box Elder, Hill City, and Black Hawk. Box Elder saw an increase of 3 percent over 2016, while Rockerville saw an increase of 40 percent.

"We’re ever growing and stretching,” said Adam Kuenkel, the assistant fire chief at Box Elder Volunteer Fire Department. “More and more subdivisions growing out there. A little more industry coming into the area. We’re getting a pretty good populace of hotels right on our border with Rapid City. And that’s attributed to a lot of our call percentage."

Kuenkel says that mutual aid from surrounding areas can make up for shortages in manpower in the short term. With call volume projected to increase with population, the area will see a need to fill manpower shortages with an increase in volunteers from the community.

Below, you can find statistics on local volunteer fire departments. For comparison, the Rapid City Fire Department received 17,000 calls for service last year, similar to their 2016 numbers.

2017 Volunteer Statistics:

Box Elder: 737 calls for service 

  • Medical: 391 calls
  • Fire: 64 calls
  • Fire Alarm: 130 calls
  • Fire Mutual Aid: 70 calls
  • Motor Vehicle Crash: 58 calls
  • Standby: 2 calls
  • Service: 21 calls
  • Rapid City Airport: 1 call
  • 2016 Total calls for service: 716

Rapid Valley: 560 calls for service 

  • Fire: 110 calls
  • Emergency Medical Calls: 335 calls
  • Good Intent (firefighters canceled en route due to a smoke scare): 77 calls
  • Fire Alarm: 17 calls
  • Hazardous Condition (No Fire): 9 calls
  • Service: 12 calls

Hill City: 191 calls for service

  • Medical assists: 43 calls
  • Motor Vehicle Crash: 35 calls
  • Fire Alarms: 31 calls
  • Good Intent: 21 calls
  • Wildland Fire: 19 calls
  • Building Fire: 6 calls

Black Hawk: 417 calls for service 

Rockerville: 204 calls for service 

  • Average prior to 2017 was 120 calls
  • Previous record high was in 2016 at 142 calls  
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