File photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star
Residents of an Angostura housing development have requested to have their own fire department, as a way to speed up response time, following an incident on the Fourth of July weekend of 2020, when a resident's modular home was lost in a fire caused by fireworks (pictured). Several neighbors attempted to put out the fire on their own using garden hoses and tools, but were unable to stop it prior to reaching the structure and the HSVFD arriving.
New contract between Rural Fire District and HSVFD also topic at quarterly meeting; Annual Meeting set for Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – One of the most discussed topics at last year’s 2021 annual meeting of the Hot Springs Rural Fire District included the desire of some Angostura housing development residents to put a fire department substation and brush truck near their homes on the southeast side of the lake. Another big item discussed at that Jan. 28, 2021, meeting was how far apart the District and the Hot Springs Volunteer Fire Department (HSVFD) was in coming together on the terms of new contract, which would go into place on or before the current five-year contract expiring on Oct. 25, 2023.
Based on the discussion at the most recent quarterly meeting of the Rural Fire District held Jan. 27, 2022, not a lot has changed.
Conversations on those topics will likely continue at the district’s Annual Meeting which is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 24, at the Mueller Civic Center at 6:30 p.m., where an election of new board members will also be held.
The topic of increasing the response time to fires in the area known as Long’s Lakeview Estates was first brought up at a quarterly meeting in October 2021 by housing development resident Jim Goeman. His request was based on an incident experienced by he and his neighbors on the Fourth of July weekend of 2021, when a resident’s modular home was lost in a fire caused by fireworks. Several neighbors attempted to put out the fire on their own using garden hoses and tools, but were unable to stop it prior to reaching the structure and the HSVFD arriving.
According to Goeman, there are a total of 300 homes in and around Angostura Road, which starts at Angostura Den along Hwy. 18/385 and proceeds south to the State Park. Goeman said more than 60 of those homes have permanent residents.
At last month’s quarterly meeting, Goeman said their longstanding request to have a Hot Springs Rural Fire District substation with a brush truck placed near their housing development, had not progressed anywhere. So, he said, their solution was to instead create their own volunteer fire department – similar to that of other area small rural fire departments like Oral, Smithwick, or Buffalo Gap – with one difference being that they would remain part of the Hot Springs Rural Fire District.
Goeman said at last month’s meeting that they currently have 50 people who have signed up to be volunteer firefighters, with 15 of them already trained and certified.
“We’ve been battling this thing back and forth,” Goeman told the board of directors of the Hot Springs Rural Fire District at the Jan. 27, 2022, quarterly meeting. “We’ve tried to get a solution and just haven’t got one. That’s our solution.”
A comment from the approximate 20-member audience, which was primarily made up of Hot Springs Volunteer Firefighters, was whether or not the Angostura fire department would be receiving structure fire training? Goeman responded by saying a couple of his members do already have that training, but if they didn’t get any more members trained, “that would be fine,” as they primarily wanted to be able to simply slow the fire down or keep it from getting to a structure until the Hot Springs department could get there with their structure equipment and better-trained firefighters.
HSVFD Chief Dar Coy pointed out to Goeman that if they did become their own fire department, they would not be able to pick and choose which fires they respond to and would be called for assistance to any and all fires in their area. Goeman responded by saying he understood that, and added that since their discussions had ended without a resolution to have a substation and brush truck, this was their next best solution.
Rural Fire District Treasurer Karen Meston then recited S.D. Codified Law which does allow Fire Districts to fund and set up any number of fire departments to meet the fire protection needs of the district. Meston added that what Goeman is requesting is within their ability to consider.
District Vice President Chad Olstad, who is also now the Acting-President following the resignation of Scott Harkless as a board member, said he was concerned as to how the Rural Fire District could fund additional departments, especially if other areas requested the same thing.
“I’m not opposed to this, but one of my questions would be, what are we going to do as a board if Water’s Edge comes to us and wants to do the same thing, or north of town wants to do the same thing, or anywhere else that says its the exact same response time to get to that location,” Olstad said. “We only have so much money to go around.”
The discussion then transitioned into the average response time it takes to get to fires in a large rural fire district like Hot Springs’. Meston pointed out that while the typical response time to fires by the HSVFD is considered good in her opinion, the only realistic way to improve the response time would be to move the equipment and people closer to where fires could be.
“One of my solutions to that in the five-year plan was to have a station at the airport and have a station at the head of Sheps, where Cascade is,” Coy stated.
Goeman then added that he did not want a substation at the airport as that was still too far away from where the residents of their housing development wanted.
Board member Tom Inman intervened the discussion and asked that Goeman and Coy continue work on their differences and come up with a solution to getting a substation in that area of the district and come back to them with a plan.
“From where I stand,” Coy said, “I thought the airport was the best solution we could come up with, because we have problem areas in the district that need more attention than this area does. There’s only two subdivisions in this district that have hydrants – Cobblestone and Pirates (a.k.a. Long’s). We go to Waters Edge or Angostura Highlands, we’re hauling water to it. As a chief, I have areas of concern that are more pressing.”
When asked by Inman where in the Long’s housing development Goeman would like a substation or department, Goeman said they already have residents who have stepped up and said they would donate land and also put up a building. He then said, if they had a station within the development, they would also respond to other fires in the area. Earlier in the meeting, Goeman also described how there are currently a number of federal grants to help fund new fire departments.
“To put a station where these folks would like to put a station, in all honesty, is pretty self-serving,” Coy said, while describing how he felt it wouldn’t suitably serve the district as a whole.
Inman then reiterated how the HSVFD and the residents of Long’s need to continue working together on a solution that best serves the district and bring that to the board. Inman then volunteered to help mediate that discussion.
Regarding the ongoing desire by both the District and the Department to agree on a new contract for fire protection services, Coy said, “we did sit down and scribble a new agreement the other night to bring to you folks as the start of a contract, and its very, very simple.”
“We’ll give you a budget; you give us the tax money; we’ll fight your fires; we’ll tell you what we spent your money on. And we want all the trucks,” Coy said, while adding that they would have the proposed contract available for the board to consider at the Feb. 24, 2022, Annual Meeting.
“We don’t want to be micromanaged, we don’t want to be nitpicked. We just want to have some trucks and go fight fires, because that’s what we like to do. This is getting exhausting,” Coy added. “We’ve been having this same fight for 20-some years.”
The fight eluded to by Coy was in regards to the somewhat unique relationship between the Rural Fire District – which is the taxing entity – and the Fire Department – which fights the fires. Most often in rural settings, the Fire District is its own Fire Department, according to Board Treasurer Meston. However, since the HSVFD is its own separate non-profit organization, the Fire District must contract for their services.
Along with that contract for services, Meston has stated that the district, who currently owns the fire trucks and most of the firefighting equipment, is required by law to have detailed financials of where their money is being spent. Meston, who has been on the Rural Fire District board since 2001, added that getting some of those required financial details has been an issue in the past.
In addition to the aforementioned contract likely being discussed at the upcoming Feb. 24 meeting, an election will also be held for new board members. Current members whose two-year seats are up for re-election include those of Acting-President/Vice President Chad Olstad, Secretary Jerry Shagla and Treasurer Karen Meston.
Other current board members include Gary Romey, Tom Inman and Mark Siebenthal. The seat of President Scott Harkless will also need to be filled following his recent resignation. That seat however will be appointed by the other members of the board.
Only residents residing in the Hot Springs Rural Fire District can vote for the officers, which excludes anyone living inside the city limits of Hot Springs.