TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN
A cairn marking Rapid City’s centennial sits relatively unscathed in front of the remains of the town office on Oct. 21, after a fire destroyed the building as well as the adjacent fire hall.
Life is returning to normal for a Westman town following a fire that destroyed its fire hall and town office in one swoop.
Rapid City Coun. Jay Woloski said — thanks in part to corporate donations and the kindness of firefighters from nearby communities — the fire department is operational.
And with some improvising, town operations and day-to-day life has continued.
"We’re doing pretty good," Woloski said during an interview on Wednesday.
In the early morning of Oct. 21, a fire swept through the building that was home to both the town office and fire hall. Investigators determined that the cause was electrical.
The fire was a big blow to the community of about 500 people — their trucks and equipment inside the burning structure, town firefighters could only watch their fire hall, their "home," burn until colleagues from Rivers arrived.
"It was part of our community … you sit there and watch your home burn, (you) feel pretty useless," said Woloski, who is also a town firefighter.
The Rapid City department’s new tanker was destroyed as well as its pumper truck and equipment. A rescue vehicle was saved from the building, but is too badly damaged to use.
Fortunately, the town hadn’t yet sold or rid itself of its old tanker truck, which was stored in a shed.
The Newdale fire department provided a spare pumper truck which came with hoses, and Brandon Fire and Emergency Services supplied some gear and breathing apparatus.
TransCanada Corp. donated $50,000 to the Rapid City Fire Department, which will be used to buy more equipment.
That means the volunteer Rapid City Fire Department is operational. Firefighters still have their pagers and radios to receive emergency calls and, while they don’t have a fire hall, an RM of Saskatchewan equipment shop serves as a rallying point when there’s an emergency call.
Personal vehicles are also available to transport emergency personnel to a scene.
Town staff have also kept the community’s day-to-day operations going. They’re working out of spare office space in the library where residents can also do town business such as pay their bills.
The library has also served as a meeting place for town council, which has also met at the RM of Saskatchewan council chamber located in Rapid City. The plan is to use the RM council chamber for monthly town council meetings.
Local groups, which once met at the town office, have met at the library. Plus, there’s a seniors centre that can accommodate about 80 people.
A safe — which contained important town documents and computer memory sticks that served as a backup to town files — survived the fire, but not all of its contents.
Some documents were salvageable, chief administrative officer Bonnie Lee Wright said, but some of the memory sticks were damaged and it’s not clear yet what was lost and how that will affect the town.
Documents stored in filing cabinets were also destroyed. That includes day-to-day documents like invoices, but also historical town documents such as a cemetery map and town map.
"Pretty well all records were lost," Wright said. "We’re not going back to zero or anything, but I mean most things were in filing cabinets … there’s been a lot of history lost."
Wright said cemetery books were among the items saved from the safe.
Woloski said a lot of information, such as bylaws and resolutions, had been backed up on computer.
He said there’s no doubt that a new fire hall will be built, but there’s no timeline for that yet as the town awaits word of the size of the insurance payout for the building and contents.
There’s no figure yet for the total amount of damage done.
The size of the insurance payout will play a role in determining what can be built.
Even before the fire, there was a plan to build a new fire hall/town hall building, and money had been fundraised and set aside in reserve by the town.
Woloski estimated that there’s about $70,000 in donations and more than $100,000 in reserve.
But, he noted, he recently looked into the price of a small building and the cost of the shell alone — minus things like doors, as well as heat and electrical systems — was $154,000.
Woloski also noted that local construction companies are booked until spring of next year.
It’s possible that any new building could be a fire hall alone, as the town will soon amalgamate with the RM of Saskatchewan which, as mentioned, has an office.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition October 31, 2013