STANDING ROCK SIOUX NATION, N.D. (KXNET) —There are no structural firefighters on Standing Rock Sioux Nation. That means if there is a fire in a building, there’s no one to put it out. Those who live on the tribal land could be forced to put the fires out themselves, which can potentially lead to deaths and injuries. The big part of the problem? No one wants to put on the jacket and suspenders anymore.
There are a few wildland firefighters, but there are no paid structural firefighters and no volunteers either. All the fire departments in the Standing Rock Sioux Nation are basically empty, and you never see a fire truck zooming down the roads of Standing Rock to attend to citizens anymore. Leaving the tribal community with the question why, and what are tribal leaders doing about it?
What is life like on the Standing Rock Sioux Nation with no firefighters? Some citizens wish this was a hypothetical situation, but it’s reality. They have no one to answer their calls, and they can’t help but wonder, what would they do when a fire starts burning in their home? Or, to make matters worse, what if they’re trapped inside?
In 2018, the former emergency management fire director wrote a grant to gain assistance for firefighters through FEMA and they were awarded that grant for training and equipment, so what happened?
“There was a group of community member trained firefighters that got through the training and started responding and, you know, just for whatever reason, it just kind of disbanded eventually. I think it might have been just that there was no management in place, so to speak,” explains current Emergency Management Fire Director Patrick Martin.
Martin was recently appointed to his position on Standing Rock a few months ago, and he says there is a lot of work to be done, and they are working through it all one step at a time.
He says the former emergency manager applied for a grant in 2018 called, “Assistance to Firefighters.” They received the grant and Heartland Consulting in Bismarck was hired to administer the grant. Heartland contracted a few firefighters that worked for Bismarck Fire Department to conduct the training and the graduated trainees were given a fire truck from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
However, that all came to an end, and since then, there has been a shortage of firefighters. Martin says nearly 20 people all volunteered and were trained, but all that stability changed rather quickly.
“I think, ultimately, it goes back to previous generations where it was a badge of honor to volunteer for your community and get that kind of feel good of giving back.” he says. “Generations have been retiring, and it’s affected ultimately all those volunteer organizations.”
So, what happens when a fire breaks out on Standing Rock? The answer: It just burns to the ground. Scary for many, this has actually happened a few times including recently, according to Martin and a few citizens.
“Just two weeks ago, Sunday, there was a fire down at one of our districts and it was like an apartment type building, multi-family building. The fire started in one unit and it ended up spreading to the next unit because there’s no fire department to respond,” Martin explains.
The next step? Martin says part of the plan moving forward is to provide the volunteer positions paid stipends or hourly pay to hopefully increase the number of recruits.