Even on a breezy Tuesday morning, city departmental heads, the Dickinson City Commission and other city officials gathered inside the Stark County Veteran’s Pavilion for a full-day Commission Retreat.

The Commission Retreat began at 7:30 a.m. and lasted until 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 30. Though last year's retreat was canceled due to COVID-19, City Administrator Brian Winningham was eager for the meeting, being it's his first Dickinson Commission Retreat. Throughout the day, departmental heads gave presentations on what each department is facing in terms of challenges and goals moving forward. Presentations ranged from fire, police, engineering, public works and other city entities.

Winningham began the Commission Retreat with a leadership presentation, filled with snippets of inspiration to move the city forward. With hour-long presentations, Winningham said he wanted to keep the dialogue open and hoped to see departmental heads advocating for each of their departments with passion and personal connections.

“Out of today I think (will be) better collaboration with city staff’s approach so we can bring better recommendations to the commission, and that means overall agreement on the Comprehensive Plan approach that is validated today," Winningham said. "There’s no decisions for today; this is more about really trusting cooperation with city staff and the commission."

PAINTING FUTURE FOR OTHER FIRE DEPARTMENTS

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Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell speaks Tuesday at the Commission Retreat. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell speaks Tuesday at the Commission Retreat. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)


Fire Chief Jeremy Presnell highlighted the Dickinson Fire Department’s Firefighter One Academy and its success both statewide and nationally.

“That Firefighter One Academy has opened up a variety of doors that just happened organically, and we didn't anticipate that all this stuff was going to come from that,” Presnell noted.

Presnell continued, “The fire department’s really positioning themselves in the state in terms of training to be the leader. We just had some people (do) some training in Phoenix, which one, it really helped us and one of the biggest problems we saw (was) with some of our on-scene communication and instant command. But when I first got here that was one of the biggest complaints consistently on the scene of fires. It was very chaotic, there was no real command structure in place. So that was a big focus of mine was to try to provide something to fix that issue.”

The Dickinson Fire Department budget overview for 2020 was $2,214,640. Moving into 2021, the annual budget is $2,204,810 with 85% personnel cost. The department is also looking at receiving $24,000 for 2021 grant funds.

From 2016 to 2017, the fire department saw a significant jump in volume of calls because that’s when crews began responding to medical calls instead of solely fires, accidents and other related calls for service, Presnell said. Calls for service increased steadily until 2020’s coronavirus pandemic hit, then calls began to decline at a rate of 23%. At the initial stages of the pandemic, Presnell noted that the department had to be strategic on how often crews would respond to medical calls in light of the current health situation and the lack of safety personal protective equipment.

Presnell pointed out that response times in 2020 were not up to standards set by the National Fire Protection Association. The standard response time for fire departments is 5 minutes, 20 seconds from the time the call is received to arriving at the location. During that time, fire crews have 1 minute, 20 seconds to get dressed and travel to the scene.

“... The crews (are) being more aware of that, (from) getting dressed quicker, looking and acting out the response a little better, so they’re taking better routes. So that’s something we’re going to continue to work on to get better,” he said.

For 2022, Presnell looks to restructure the department by developing a fresh, functional and unified structure; decreasing overall response times to the 5 minutes, 20 seconds standard; providing 24/7 coverage at Station 2 (located in the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center); and developing a long-term strategic plan.

With the recent retirement of Assistant Chief Deb Barros, Presnell said he wants to eliminate the assistant chief position and combine those duties with the fire marshal’s position, creating a new title of deputy chief. Then to help decrease response times, the fire department would hire three additional firefighters that would keep Station 2 staffed at all times.

“I feel like the fire department is really, really top heavy, and we need more people out there fighting fires than we do sitting in an office,” Presnell remarked. “... That restructure, I think is really important. I just think that we need to focus more on the line than we do administration and tighten the belt there.”

Within the next fives years, Presnell said he wants to replace some fire equipment from existing self-contained breathing apparatuses to the 1996 Pierce Ladder Truck, as well as work on building a public safety training center and hire a full-time training officer.

REALLOCATING POLICE OFFICERS, CHECKING OFF PROJECTS

Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger points out several projects the department would like to see finalized by the end of 2022, which include purchasing body cameras, a summer podcast and improving less lethal capabilities by using 40 mm launchers. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger points out several projects the department would like to see finalized by the end of 2022, which include purchasing body cameras, a summer podcast and improving less lethal capabilities by using 40 mm launchers. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)


On the opposite side of the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center, Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger raised some hurdles the department is facing, especially with retention of officers. Currently, the Dickinson Police Department has 43 allocated sworn positions. Dassinger hopes to hire four more officers in the near future.

The Dickinson Police Department is always striving to boost community outreach programs such as with the Citizen Police Academy, Skate with a Cop, Heroes Ball, Daddy Daughter Dance, Bakken BBQ, Shop with a Cop and Badlands Crimestoppers.

The police budget in 2020 was $5,000,939.55 20. This year, the budget is a little more than $6 million and most of those funds go toward employee costs, Dassinger said.

Before Dassinger retires, he said he wants to establish more of a strategic plan over the next five years, which would encompass more of the business side of operations within the police department.

Capt. David Wilkie’s retirement in November 2020 left the police department deciding whether to fill that position or eliminate it altogether. Like the fire department, Dassinger said he would like to see a bit of restructuring within the department by adding two lieutenant officers instead of refilling that vacant captain position.

“... So basically that's kind of the direction that I'd like to go. Obviously, there would be some budget implications, we'd be saving on a captain salary, but we would also be adding two lieutenants. And then I think the biggest part of that is that these lieutenants would become salaried positions, instead of non-salaried positions," Dassinger said.

One of the current projects the Dickinson Police Department is working on is the intersection camera project, which began more than two years ago as a way to better protect and keep neighborhoods safe, Dassinger continued.

“These cameras are used for helping solve crime such as burglaries, other things that happen in our community,” he said. ”... And right now, we’ve got approximately six cameras that are set up on six major intersections in the community that are up and running, and we're working on some logistics right now as far as historical data.”

Another project is the capstone law enforcement class at Dickinson High School, which will come to fruition this fall as a semester-long course taught by Dickinson police officers and school resource officers. Other projects include finalizing the department’s Statewide Interoperable Radio Network program, improving less lethal capabilities by using 40 mm launchers in each one of the supervisor vehicles as well as launching a podcast by the end of this summer that focuses on law enforcement issues within Dickinson and other city-community topics.

Dassinger noted that a big project this year will be to fully implement body cameras on the department's officers.

“Obviously body cameras are not a fix-all. Body cameras are really driven historically to law enforcement departments in our community because of alleged transparency issues,” Dassinger noted. "More and more body cameras are becoming requirements for even applying for federal grants and other issues.”

Dassinger will elaborate more with his proposal on the body camera project at the April 6 Dickinson City Commission meeting, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.