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4 SD firefighters retire to avoid layoffs

The four veteran firefighters, including the fire chief, resigned in the hopes of preventing layoffs amidst budget concerns


Siandhara Bonnet
Rapid City Journal, S.D.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Four Rapid City Fire Department firefighters retired Friday as a result of budget concerns and to help prevent possible layoffs in the department.

Capt. Joe Tjaden, Training Section Chief Matt Culberson, Battalion Chief Tim Daly and Fire Chief Rod Seals have a combined 111 years of experience under their belts, according to a RCFD press release.

“Each one of these individuals leaves a legacy of excellence,” said Lt. Jim Bussell, public information officer for the RCFD, in an email to the Journal. “They were among the most highly trained, well-rounded firefighters in the business. They care deeply about people. They care deeply about their peers and the community they serve. They have served faithfully and with great dedication. Their impact on our organization is profound.”

According to the release, Tjaden started his career with the RCFD in 1998 and became a paramedic in 2000. Eleven years later, he was promoted to captain.

He also serves as a Structural Protection Specialist with the Rocky Mountain Area Type 2 Incident Management Team-Blue, and was assigned to lead the Rapid City/Pennington County Hazardous Materials Emergency Response Team (Hazmat) at Station 6.

Tjaden will continue to serve as the Fire Chief at the Rapid Valley Volunteer Fire Department, where he’s served since 1994.

Bussell told the Journal Friday that Lt. Trapper Lappe was promoted to fill Tjaden’s position as Station 6 captain.

“Joe’s dedication to the fire service and his dedication to education and training is unsurpassed,” Bussell said in the press release. “Ask almost any firefighter in the Black Hills and they’ll likely say that they have benefited from Joe’s knowledge, tutelage, and experience in one way or another.”

Culberson started his career in 1990 and was promoted to lieutenant in September 2000 at the Rapid City Regional Airport’s Fire Station 8. He also has expertise in hazardous materials.

According to the release, Culberson helped bring Target Solutions to the RCFD and helped develop the Fire Training Specialist and EMS Training Specialist positions.

Daly began his service at the RCFD in 1986, although his EMS experience dates back to 1979 when he began working for the Rapid City/Pennington County Ambulance Service.

Although he retired from RCFD, he will continue to work with the United States Forest Service where he’s worked since 2003 and will continue as Operation Section Chief trainee with the Rocky Mountain Area Type 1 Incident Management Team, according to the release.

Seals, who announced his retirement in May, has held rank at every level in the department, the release states, including interim fire chief in 2017.

According to the release, he established an employee-led mental health initiative and developed a training facility.

In Seals’ retirement letter he issued to Rapid City Mayor Steve Allender, he cited the “forecasted budget ‘crisis’” as his reason for retirement.

He noted that he’s the highest-paid city employee eligible for retirement, and “not doing so would be hypocritical on my part, especially when given orders to encourage those that can retire to do so in order to lessen our payroll expenses.”

Seals is the 18th fire chief in RCFD history.

“It should be noted that these four outstanding and devoted individuals have chosen to retire at this time as a way to continue to serve the citizens of our community,” Bussell said in the release. “Their decision to retire helps stave off potential future layoffs as a result of budget concerns.”

Bussell said the department has looked for ways to reduce spending as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of which has been retirements. The other has been through operational budget cuts done by Allender and the Rapid City Council.

“Each member of our department is better for having had the opportunity to work with these four individuals,” Bussell said. “Their impact cannot be measured. We wish them a happy and fulfilling retirement. They will be missed.”

Allender appointed Jason Culberson as interim fire chief Friday.

Bussell told the Journal Friday that at shift change Saturday, the department will be down by 14 personnel. He said the position of training section chief will not be filled at this time, but Fire Operations Division Chief Nick Carlson will temporarily perform those duties.

He also said Seals announced Friday that Capt. Brian Povandra was promoted to fill the B-Shift Battalion Chief position, leaving the A-Shift Captain spot open to be filled later.

Bussell said training section lieutenants have been returned to the operations division to make sure operations positions are filled. Bussell said he was assigned to the Mobile Medic and is performing public information officer duties on an as-needed basis.


©2020 Rapid City Journal, S.D.