Protecting historic buildings in the Black Hills

Published: Apr. 16, 2019 at 7:10 PM CDT
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Notre Dame may be far away, but we have our own historically significant buildings here in the Black Hills. If a fire were to start in any of them, how would they be protected?

In 1997 a fire destroyed the Sweeney building on the corner of 7th and Main in downtown Rapid City. Many of the buildings in that area today are part of Rapid City's Historic District. And local firefighters are well aware of the challenges that preserving older buildings can pose.

"Inherently an older building like that is much more hazardous from a manual firefighting aspect than it is in a modern building. Modern buildings have different types of construction features and carry their own risks, but the older buildings are a bit more unpredictable on whether or not they're going to stay standing," says Division Chief Tim Behlings, RCFD.

This is why it's important to implement a sprinkler system in many buildings. If it takes more time for firefighters to arrive, the sprinklers can help to keep the fire from spreading too much.

"We continue to use, exercise, fire safe practices within those buildings, try to be vigilant. There's alarm systems early notification to the fire department that there's a problem in those structures and we continue to fill the gaps, so to speak, in the city that are not currently protected," says Behlings.

One of those buildings is the Chapel in the Hills. It's made of wood and it could take time to get to making the structure vulnerable.

Behlings says he would like to see it protected.

This would assist in the first few moments of a fire and potentially prevent a fire such as the one in 1997 at the Sweeney building. Even after such a devastating fire here, procedures are in place to restore damaged buildings.

Sarah Hanzel the staff liaison for the Historic Preservation Commission says,"We use standards for preservation to take a look at what are significant features that can be repaired and restored. Then there's a tipping point if something needs to be reconstructed. How are we doing that in such a way that is empathetic to the historic structure, but also not trying to convey a false sense of history."

The city can provide loans to building owners who want to install a sprinkler system through the Life Safety Loan Program, and nationally there is a tax incentive.

For more information, you can find the city's Life Safety Loan program

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