Thursday, July 25, 2024

Kalispell Council to review analysis of Fire Department

Daily Inter Lake | August 28, 2023 12:00 AM

Kalispell City Council on Monday during a work session will take a first look at a report that examines the city’s fire and emergency medical services.

The report by consultant Center for Public Safety Management identifies recommendations in operations, staffing and facilities in accordance with industry best practices. Council already reviewed a similar report for the Police Department.

Council meets at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 201 First Ave. E., at 7 p.m.

“These reports provide a broad list of recommendations throughout the respective department, some of which may be easy to implement, others which may require more significant attention and potential new revenue sources, and others which may not be applicable based on unique attributes of the community, organizations, etc.,” City Manager Doug Russell said in a memo to Council.

At a work session in September, Council is expected to discuss a potential dedicated levy to address areas within both reports.

The report by the Washington D.C.-based consulting group that works with police and fire departments across the country provides 56 overarching recommendations for the department that are intended to help the city deliver services more “efficiently and effectively.”

Overall, the consultant says in the report that, Kalispell Fire Department provides quality fire, emergency services and rescue services.

“The fire staff are professional and dedicated to the mission of their agency, were transparent during our discussions, and were quite focused on creating a positive future for the city,” the report notes.

The Fire Department includes 35 personnel of which 34 are sworn firefighters. Because of the city’s status as a Montana Class 1 city with a population greater than 10,000, the city is required by state law to have a fully career fire department and cannot use volunteers.

The fire department staffs two fire stations, 24 hours per day, seven days a week with a minimum of seven personnel on duty during the day, and six overnight.

The recommendations include the need to increase and reorganize staff, construct an additional fire station, increase training within the department, address wildland fire threats in the wildland-urban interface and make adjustments within its ambulance services.

The consultant also recognized that the recommendations first must be budgeted for or bargained with unions, and a process must be developed prior to implementation.

The report notes that as the population of the city has increased, so have the calls for emergency services. The city’s population has doubled since 2000, the report notes referring to U.S. Census Bureau figures. The 2020 census put the population at 24,500 and the estimated 2023 population estimate increased to 29,400.

During a five-year period the total volume of calls for the department increased by 23%. Emergency medical service calls increased by 19%, fire calls 32% and other calls, which includes canceled and mutual aid calls, increased by 38%.

In 2022, the department responded to about 4,300 calls total. Of those about 3,000 were emergency medical service calls and 670 were fire calls. Other calls were about 400.

The department in 2018 responded to just under 3,500 calls, of which about 2,500 were emergency medical services and about 500 were fire. Other calls were about 550.

DURING THE work session, Council is also set to review projects that are eligible for tax increment financing and next steps in the process. The projects first came up during the recent budget process and are now being discussed more in-depth.

For the Westside Urban Renewal District three items are listed.

The city is looking at rehabilitating the building in Depot Park in anticipation of relocating the Parks and Recreation Department to the facility. The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce had been leasing the building but moved out.

The city previously approved the acquisition of land adjacent to the Parkline Trail for further redevelopment as part of trail connections leading to the bypass trail and making safety improvements. The purchase is eligible for funds, according to a city memo.

A plan to include signage on the bridge on the eastern area of the Parkline Trail could receive funding. The project was removed from the initial project bid for cost saving measures.

In the Downtown Urban Renewal Area, funding could be used to renovate the Parks and Recreation Department building if the department relocates to Depot Park. The renovation would look to create an evidence facility for the Police Department, which has been identified as a need in the analysis conducted by the Center for Public Safety Management.

Features Editor Heidi Desch may be reached at 758-4421 or