Thursday, July 25, 2024

Kalispell must plan for public safety needs

by Daily Inter Lake
| September 3, 2023 12:00 AM

A recent independent report offered high praise for the Kalispell Fire Department, along with a stark warning about immediate and future public safety needs as the city continues to grow.

Consultant CPSM’s analysis lauded the fire department’s efforts to provide quality emergency and rescue services in a professional manner, as well as its transparency and focus on building an even more robust outfit in the years to come.

This is not surprising to anyone who has interacted with the many dedicated administrators, firefighters and EMS professionals who work to keep the public safe 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

But in order to maintain that high standard, the department needs to expand facilities and personnel — and in a significant manner.

In the last five years, Kalispell’s population has grown by 19% while the area of the city has increased by around 7%. Accordingly, 911 call volumes are up as well. The consultant’s assessment set out a three-year plan to ramp up services to meet the new demand.

In the first year, on-duty staffing at the fire department should be increased to eight personnel, while upgrading the EMS coordinator to full-time and creating a new training and safety officer position.

In the second year, the department should add one additional firefighter per shift, for maximum staffing of 12 personnel each shift, while the third year ramps up to 13 personnel each shift.

The assessment also suggested the city start planning for a new fire station off Farm to Market Road to handle needs in the booming West Valley area. That new facility would require three shift commanders, the assessment noted.

Likewise, another recent independent analysis the city commissioned recommends additional staffing for the Kalispell Police Department. That report recommended the department hire five full-time equivalent officers to help with the workload.

It’s a lot for the City Council to consider, with what would amount to a hefty price tag for taxpayers. With 70% of the general fund already going into fire and law enforcement, there’s no wiggle room to transfer funds.

The reality, as City Councilor Chad Graham noted, is that the city needs to start planning for a levy — now.

““[Without a levy], we’re never going to be able to keep up,” Graham commented last week at a work session to review the assessment.

Asking taxpayers for increased funding is always a tall order, but this isn’t an issue that can be punted away. Kalispell is among the fastest growing cities in the U.S., while more and more visitors are stressing services each year.

Residents must trust that the city’s public safety resources are up to par, and the brave men and women who work every day to keep the community safe must have the support they deserve.

It would behoove the council to start the conversation now and build a public education campaign explaining why additional safety resources are needed. We’re confident that Kalispell will get behind a strong, fiscally sound plan that backs the blue and red.