PINE RIDGE, S.D. (KELO) — The first structural fire department on Pine Ridge is under construction and students at the School of Mines in Rapid City are helping make the facility a reality.
This area of land will not be as empty in the next few years.
Recent School of Mines graduate, Zachary Darling is part of team working on a Fire Department project for the Pine Ridge reservation.
“I’ve always had this inner passion to try to make a difference and to try and use my engineering muscle to do that and so when the school year rolled around it just worked out where I had extra credits I could use and this class and I was like, ‘Wow, we actually get to work in the community and solve real world problems and not only that it’s communities that absolutely need it the most,” Darling said.
Darling says he and his peers helped with designing, engineering and researching for the project, which is special in another way. Darling is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
“One thing I will say on that story is and that became very real is that when we went to engage with the tribe, they were very quick to tell us stories about how this is truly a life or death thing and these are stories that are not happening in other places. And what better opportunity then to use free students to get experience, to grow as professionals and be inserted into the real world and make it a better place,” Darling said.
Having an actual building for a fire department will aid efforts to respond to emergencies in the area.
“The structural part of it for us is coming here to protect all the homes that we have because we don’t have a lot of them. There’s multi-families in one home so we got to try to protect those because once you have a fire in the structure you’re displacing 20 or 30 people in these homes,” Chief Big Crow said.
Fire Chief Wesley Big Crow will be in charge of the department. He says this new facility will benefit economic growth.
“To bring awareness to these insurance companies, to say, ‘Hey can we start building houses?’ Instead of buying these rundown trailers, trying to fix them up and having all these families in there. Now we’re responsible enough, we have a fire department,” Chief Big Crow said.
Wendell Yellow Bull is the Fire Administrator for the project. He says there are plans to have 5 structural fire departments throughout the reservation.
“It’s really important that we have multiple fire departments so that we can provide suppression services throughout the whole area,” Yellow Bull said.
Yellow Bull says the new structural fire department will cover over 8-thousand square feet. The building itself will cost about 3-million dollars.
Yellow Bull says working with the School of Mines students was a big help.
“It was quite a few those students that were working hand in hand together. It’s amazing to see a group of young people taking that opportunity to develop that,” Yellow Bull said.
“We’re a small piece in this bigger spectrum of everything that’s going on but it’s awesome to say that we were able to help out, able to start our careers in engineering with something so meaningful,” Smith said.
Another recent graduate at the School of Mines who worked on the project, William Smith, says he looks forward to the day everything is finished.
Not only will the structural fire department benefit members of the community, but it also help students like Darling and Smith, be a part of something bigger.
“I think it really gives us a perspective on what engineering really means and what it’s meant to be for humanity,” Smith said.
If you would like to donate to the Structural Fire Station fund, you can contact the Oglala Lakota Structural Fire Administration.