Mines News

Release Date Friday, June 18, 2021

Mines Students Assist Oglala Sioux Tribe in Designing First Structural Fire Station on Pine Ridge

Two Mines graduates, Joseph Updike and William Smith, (far right) were invited to join tribal officials during the official groundbreaking for the new fire station on Pine Ridge.  


A team at South Dakota Mines is about to see their hard work turn into reality. Mines students William Smith, Zachary Darling, Ellie Burczek, Cody MacLake, Chase Storgaard, Jason Maiden, Joseph Updike, Mark Cedar Face, and Tyler Jensen worked with tribal and federal officials to help research and design a new structural fire station in the town of Pine Ridge.

It is the first time the Oglala Sioux Tribe has had a fire station dedicated to protecting structures located on their reservation. The senior design team served at the request of Oglala Sioux Tribal officials after they reached out as part of a memorandum of understanding between the university and the Tribe that helps connect experts at Mines with tribal needs. The project was funded through a technical assistance grant from USDA Rural Development that seeks to help improve infrastructure in rural communities.

OST Fire rendering The teams at Mines met with Tribal officials to determine their needs and to verify the long response times for fire emergencies on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Students then toured fire stations in the area and interviewed fire officials to garner ideas for the new design. “We talked with firefighters at many different stations to ask them what they liked about their building and what they would like to improve,” says Smith who acted as a project manager and coordinator for the student team while pursuing his master’s at Mines. “A lot of people think engineers just sit at a desk and crunch numbers. This project showed me that a big part of engineering is communication and coordination between different groups. This includes, the client, regulators, contractors and third parties. It’s been incredibly rewarding and beneficial as a student.” 

The students were overseen by Mines faculty and engineers at Banner Associates in Rapid City. Student advisors included Marc Robinson, Ph.D., in the Mines’ Department of Civil and Environmental engineering (CEE) and Cheryl Chapman, Ph.D., P.E., CEE adjunct professor. Mines partnership with Banner on the project and the hard work of the student team led Banner to hire Smith and Darling as full-time engineers following their graduation from Mines.

The senior design team built on progress made by teams of students working in Engineering projects in Community Service (EPICS), led by Mines masters graduate Logan Gayton.  “Projects like this are a great opportunity for our students to get both interaction with professional engineers and to take part in real-world engineering that benefits local communities,” says Dr. Robinson. “This kind of work shows our students the importance of meeting with, identifying and understanding the needs of the client. This was also an important teaching opportunity on the importance of appropriate cross-cultural communication. Building these kind of communication skills will serve students who are working on engineering projects anywhere in the global marketplace during their career.”

The new fire station will not only help save lives and property during structural fires. It will also serve as a way to continue to empower tribal based economic development. “The structural fire department enables homeowners and businesses to get fire insurance for their buildings in Pine Ridge. Without this fire station, homeowner and small business have trouble getting loans as there is no insurance to cover possible loss due to a fire,” says Robinson.

Following the construction of the fire station in Pine Ridge Village, more substations will be needed across Pine Ridge to provide proper fire protection to the entire tribal nation.

Design teams at Mines are also continuing two other projects with tribal nations in South Dakota. This includes efforts to help design a new tribal administration building the Cheyenne River and Rosebud tribes.

“Projects like this are exciting for both students and faculty,” says Chapman. “Civil and environmental engineers take pride in undertaking projects that improve communities and solve problems. This real-world and hands-on work really makes a difference. We are also fortunate to work for a fantastic group of tribal leaders and local engineers who are leading the way on critical infrastructure improvement in tribal nations.”



About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Mike Ray, 605-394-6082, mike.ray@sdsmt.edu