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Bad Bridges Slow Emergency Response Times

November 5, 2012, 5:38 PM by Peggy Moyer

Bad Bridges Slow Emergency Response Times

Fire departments and emergency responders in Minnehaha County are forced to find alternate routes while the county works to repair more than 30 bridges.

The bridge over the Big Sioux River on Highway 114 west of Baltic is closed. Four other bridges in the Baltic response area have had their weight limits reduced, making it impossible for the Fire Department's 20-ton fire trucks to cross.  Baltic Fire Chief Michael Koopman says it now takes longer for the crews to respond to calls.

"It could have a tremendous impact on a person's life.  A cardiac arrest or any situation or thing like that where four minutes is the magic minute or time frame from getting a call and getting someone on the scene. Obviously, it's going to delay us quite a bit," Koopman said.

The volunteer department has reworked the routes to avoid the impacted bridges, but now the safest route isn't the shortest or the quickest, which is creating another issue.

"The townships are kind of taking the brunt of this too, as far as excess travel on gravel roads," Koopman said.

Brad Graff lives just two miles from town, but now drives six or 10 miles to get around the bridge. We drove the shortest route, which includes four miles on gravel. You can see the road is starting to get ruts and potholes and doesn't have much gravel left on it.

"Our day-to-day has switched quite a little bit. Our children both go to school in town and to go to their events, we have to plan a little bit longer travel to get from point A to point B," Graff said.

The inconvenience of the bridge closure impacts the entire community.  Just as the county announced it was going to close the bridge, the only gas station in town announced it was going to close too.

"It certainly has affected our travel in and out of town. Things that we've become dependent upon to utilize in town, we're now going to Sioux Falls or Dell Rapids," Graff said.

The Baltic Fire Department has made arrangements with other community fire departments to help while the county fixes the bridges.

"We're hoping by having those agreements with other departments that they can respond faster or as fast as usual and help us, you know, get there before us," Koopman said.

Baltic is also equipping some of its volunteers who live on the other sides of these bridges with AEDs and other life-saving equipment to help speed up response times.

The department is hoping for grant money to help make the extra purchases.

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