TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
Two fire trucks sit ruined on Monday morning after an overnight fire destroyed the fire hall and the adjoining town office in Rapid City.
RAPID CITY — With their equipment and trucks burning in their own fire hall, all Rapid City’s firefighters could do was watch the biggest fire in town history.
The building housing Rapid City’s town office and fire hall is shown ablaze overnight on Sunday. Emergency workers were alerted to the fire around midnight.
The Rapid City town office and fire hall are engulfed in flames late Sunday night. (SUBMITTED)
Firefighters with the Rivers/Daly Fire Department pour water on hot spots on Monday morning after an overnight fire destroyed the fire hall and adjoining town office in Rapid City. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
A cairn marking the town of Rapid City’s centennial sits relatively unscathed in front of the remains of the town office on Monday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
A sign marking a fire lane sits among smouldering debris at the former Rapid City fire hall on Monday. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)
A valiant effort had saved the fire department’s rescue vehicle — but its new tanker, recently acquired pumper and equipment were still in the burning building.
Town firefighters painfully had to wait for help from Rivers to arrive.
"It was a sick, sick feeling," Rapid City Emergency Services Capt. Tom English recalled Monday morning as the remains of the wood-framed building, which had housed both the town office and its fire hall, continued to smoke. "Pretty sure everybody felt like crying."
Emergency workers were alerted to the fire around midnight on Sunday. Hours later, around 9:30 a.m. on Monday, the remains of the fire hall/town office building — believed to date from the 1960s — was still smouldering.
The charred metal frames of the pumper and tanker trucks marked where the building once stood.
Ernie Paul, who lives across the street, described how he looked out his window around 12:20 a.m. and saw the fire hall in flames.
"It was really going," Paul said. "Flames were flying in the air."
During the next couple of hours, Paul watched the building crumble and fall.
Rapid City Emergency Services Chief Morley Cornish said he was awoken at his nearby home around midnight by a neighbour.
He hurried over to the building to find smoke coming out of the roof.
The 911 dispatcher had already notified other Rapid City firefighters.
As his son held up the overhead door, English entered and braved the heat and smoke.
He hopped into the rescue vehicle, started it up and drove it out the building so fast that he clipped and broke the door.
Some firefighters were able to help battle the fire once counterparts from Rivers arrived, but the rescue vehicle was all that could be saved as the building was destroyed.
All the remaining firefighting equipment was burned, and the department’s two recently acquired trucks — a pumper bought from the town of Erickson for $30,000 last year, and a tanker bought from the U.S. for about $30,000 and arrived two weeks ago.
The tanker had been temporarily stored at a shed, but officially put into service and driven into the fire hall for the first time on Sunday — just hours before the blaze.
"It hadn’t been used at all," English said.
No one was in the building at the time and there were no injuries.
The Office of the Fire Commissioner and RCMP were on the scene Monday morning, but their work had only just begun and no cause had been determined.
Firefighters indicated that it appears the fire started in the fire hall portion of the building. They and other officials said there was nothing to suggest it was suspicious.
The Rapid City volunteer fire department usually covers not only the estimated 500 town residents, but another 550 to 575 residents in the surrounding RM of Saskatchewan, plus residents in parts of other RMs.
Firefighting and emergency medical duties will now have to be provided by other surrounding communities.
Mayor Orest Woloski said town council and the fire personnel were to hold an emergency meeting either today or Wednesday to work out emergency service coverage.
How the community will run without its town office also remains to be worked out. Two full-time and one part-time staff worked in the office, but Woloski said he expects they’ll be able to continue work at other locations.
It wasn’t only town council that met at the office, but committees and community groups such as the chamber of commerce.
Woloski said there are several options when it comes to alternate meeting space for council and other groups, but no decision has been made.
Other options are also being looked at to provide services that were supplied at the town office, such as the payment of utility bills and taxes.
The full extent of what was lost in the town office wasn’t known as of Monday morning.
The town has a walk-in safe where papers and backup computer records were kept. The safe seemed warped but intact, but it was damaged and couldn’t be opened to see what had survived.
The safe has been sent to a machinist to be opened.
However, Woloski said, papers in filing cabinets would have been destroyed and that damage remained to be assessed.
The mayor noted that the town has set aside money in recent years to build a new fire hall/town hall building and there’s also been some fundraising. A fall supper had helped to raise about $6,000 for the cause.
But Woloski said it was envisioned as a multi-year project and there’s not enough money on hand to erect a new building right away.
Woloski said the burned building and vehicles were insured.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 22, 2013