The outside of Rapid City’s Fire Station One may look the same, inside it’s busting at the seams

RAPID CITY, S.D. — For 44 years downtown Rapid City’s Fire Station One has been growing, but only inside, and now it’s busting at the seams. The Rapid City Common Council acknowledged the concerns this week and approved $300,000 to look for solutions.

The outside may look the same but the walls within have shifted overtime, revealing a recurring theme. The library became two offices. The closet became an office. The community room became more offices.

The station now re-purposes every nook and cranny to support a growing staff.

“I started in 1995 in the department. We had 98 people,” said Rapid City Fire Chief Rod Seals. “We have 156 personnel now and that’s been 24 years so certainly as your department grows, your administration team grows. We’re out of room.”

The creation of offices throughout the building squeezes available storage space into nothing. Gear is stacked on lockers. Equipment is stored feet away from vehicles, the vehicles that fit inside.

“We have a separate, cold storage facility where we have a type one engine, type six, and the hägglunds, but if we need that we’ve got to go get it and bring it down here,” said Lt. Jim Bussell, public information officer with the Rapid City Fire Department. “We just don’t have storage right now for everything.”

Severe weather poses a problem for the vehicles that don’t fit indoors, succumbing to hail marks. Hail marks also add stress to the roof, which took a beating last summer and still leaks on occasion.

The recent blizzard posed a problem as snow melted. Winter storm Atlas pushed the building to its limits with a heavy snow load on the roof.

“These windows in my office cracked, completely cracked because of the snow load,” said Seals. “Something tells me that if the roof couldn’t handle the snow load, it probably wasn’t built for a second story.”

The growing staff is also a challenge considering the number of women in the station is different than it was 44 years ago. There’s currently one women’s restroom and no designated changing areas, leaving the men’s main bathroom as an option.

“For our female firefighters, there’s nowhere for them to change individually so they have to either utilize the one female bathroom or they use the large restroom,” said Bussell. “We’ve added bolt locks so they can lock the door but that can be problematic.”

Being able to add gender specific shower areas also carries an importance paralleled with research showing that firefighters face the higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer due to exposure to dangerous materials during the fire fight.

Not all the concerns are visible within the station’s walls. Other problems lie below and up above.

“The sewer lines are a constant problem,” said Seals. “We’re constantly having to snake them and they’re always backing up. Our rooftop unit, in fact the HVAC technicians are here trying to figure out an issue with it.”

In the warm months of the year, the HVAC relies on a store bought, sprinkler system, purchased by the Chief himself. “The HVAC system is 20 years old so it’s showing its age now.”

“If it gets above 85 degrees, we have to turn the water on [the sprinklers] to keep the compressors cool so the system keeps running,” said Fire Operations Division Chief Nick Carlson.

Firefighters work 24 hour shifts. That means they eat, sleep, and train at work.

“We’re not complaining, we’re not whining, we’re just at the point where we need to do something different,” said Bussell. “We’ve been good stewards of the building for the last 44 years. We’ve not had any major renovations. Hopefully people see that we’ve taken advantage of every square inch of the building and the storage is one area where we’re really feeling it.”

The next step for the department is for a firm to decide the best way to go about renovations. Work with what they have or start from scratch.

But until then, firefighters will do what they do.

“We’re firefighters,” said Seals. “We’ll adapt and overcome.”

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