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Spearfish Fire Department reaches 1-year mark

SPEARFISH (AP) -- The Spearfish Fire Department is passing its one-year milestone this month and is looking to do more for the community in 2017. The city fire department was established in 2016 and began transitioning from an all-volunteer depar...

SPEARFISH (AP) - The Spearfish Fire Department is passing its one-year milestone this month and is looking to do more for the community in 2017.

The city fire department was established in 2016 and began transitioning from an all-volunteer department to a combination department, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.

Now, the department has three paid staff positions, including fire chief, assistant chief and administrative assistant.

"It isn't a different department. The department's going a different direction, but it's the same department," Fire Chief Mark Sachara said. "We're doing the same things, just a little bit differently."

Assistant Fire Chief Rob Mathis, Jr. said the idea of a combination department is not uncommon and is happening nationwide.

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After starting on staff in Spearfish in June 2016, Sachara presented staff positions to the city council by July 2016, following recommendations of the Spearfish Fire Department Taskforce.

Mathis and Sachara have both previously experienced combination departments.

This year the department hopes to focus on training, volunteer recruitment and relationship strengthening. Also on the agenda for 2017 is to remind employers of the value of allowing volunteers to respond to fire calls.

According to Sachara, the fire department will always have a need for more volunteers. He said the most fire departments in the U.S., including South Dakota, rely on volunteers. But he said most people believe their local fire department is paid.

Volunteer firefighter Travis Ladson said volunteering is no easy task and that the responsibility of balancing a job with the fire department wouldn't be practical to do long term.

"The hours that were starting to be put upon certain people in higher positions was too much for somebody to really work a 40-50-hour job and then put another 30-40 hours in (as a volunteer on the fire department). There's no way anybody could do this for a long term," he said.

A full fire department roster would be 63 people, and the Spearfish department currently has 54.

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