The Rapid Valley Volunteer Fire Department was officially organized as an Unincorporated Association on October 13, 1966, recognized by the Pennington County Commission on October 14, 1966, and incorporated on September 19, 1968. The first funding came from a donation from the Rapid Valley Community Club (no longer in existence). Operations funding during the first few years came strictly from donations. When donations could no longer keep up with the operational demands, the Rapid Valley Rural Fire Protection District was formed by public vote on May 14, 1974. The Fire District then had the authority to levy taxes. Fire Districts are a creation of the SD Legislature and are governed by South Dakota Codified Law; Chapter 34-31A. Current funding for the Fire Department comes from taxes levied by the Fire District, donations and from services rendered (race track standby, project fires, and so on).
Both organizations exist for the same purpose; to provide the citizens of the Rapid Valley area with fire and EMS protection. The organizations operate with separate leadership and funding accounts. There are benefits to having both; the District has taxing authority and other powers given by the SD Legislature; the Department has advantages of its nonprofit status, and has certain powers given by the SD Fire Marshal specifically to Fire Departments.
The first building used was a two-stall building where the Rapid Valley Water Service is currently located. Funding for this building came from an auction of donated items held at the Rapid Valley Lumber site. Two more stalls were added to complete the station in 1980. Planning for the current site began in the early 1980s. The land was purchased in 1989 with site preparation and building completed in 1990. The Fire Department moved in December of 1990. The building is debt free.
Expenses for the first full year, 1967, were $3,257.42.
The first Fire Chief was Ted Ireland, for a three year term. The second Chief was Leo Mulally, who served for two years until his resignation for health reasons in 1972. Don Kobes served as the third Chief from 1972 until 1992. From 1992 to 1999 Tim Kobes was the fourth Chief the department had. Lyle Heinrich was selected in 1999 and served until 2002 when Tim Kobes was again selected to lead the department. In Mid 2016 Tim Kobes announced his intention to step down from his position of Chief 1 year early but continue as a member. In November 2016 a Election was held and Marshall Keefe was selected to lead the department for the remaining year. In October 2017 Marshall Keefe announced that he would not be seeking reelection at the end of the year, A nominating committee was formed and in November Joe Tjaden was nominated and unanimously selected to be the new Chief.
Vehicles used at fires were CM2 vehicles. They could be used but not sold as they were owned by the state. The first year, there was one pumper, one tanker, and one jeep (used as a brush truck carrying a 50-gallon tank). The first vehicle owned by the department was a used Dodge Power Wagon, donated by Lloyd Maude, and used as a brush truck.
The first air pack was purchased on February 1, 1967. Large diameter hose was first purchased and put into use in 1987. Prior to that, two 2 ½” hose lines were connected to the hydrant. The first ISO classification (Insurance Services Organization) was a Class 10 (Class 1 being best, and Class 11 being the worst). On August 15, 1968, RVVFD went to a Class 8. In the 1970s RVVFD went to a Class 6 in hydranted areas, and Class 9 in rural areas. Class 9 is the best classification that can be obtained in a non-hydrant area without a special water flow test. In 2001, RVVFD was able to advance to a Class 4 rating in the hydrant area.
The first car race standby was on July 20, 1967 and continued through the 2003 season. The first Pancake Feed was held on February 16, 1967. The second was November 10, 1967, and has continued once a year since, usually on Friday of Fire Prevention Week (the first week of October). The first Pancake Supper in the present building was in 1990, just before the Department moved into the building.
Membership in the Fire Department has been as low as 15 and as high as 50 (our stated maximum).
The Fire District Board of Directors currently has five elected members. SD Law requires a minimum of five, with some requirements as to representation proportions and qualifications.
The number of calls the first few years was about 10 annually. From the late 70s to 1995, the call volume varied from 51 to 145. On April 1, 1995, the Fire Department formally started responding to all medical calls with a first responder program. Prior to this, the Department would respond when the ambulance would request help. The calls immediately jumped into the 250-350 range. In 2002-2003 the calls broke the 400 mark, and showed no sign of slowing down.
The current area is about 117 square miles. The population is thought to be over 15,000 by now (it was 9552 according to the 1990 census), which would put Rapid Valley in the ten largest towns/cities in South Dakota.