Council of Councils discuss 4th of July firework safety, 911 staffing in Great Falls

The Council of Councils, a body made up of representatives from each of the nine neighborhood councils and two commission representatives, met Tuesday night for their fall meeting.

Mayor Bob Kelly and City Commissioner Owen Robinson served as the commission representatives for the evening.

The council received a presentation on the impact of Fourth of July fireworks from both Great Falls Fire Rescue and the Great Falls Police Department. Police Chief Jeff Newton also gave an update on the department.

Fire Chief Jeremy Jones said that fireworks were directly tied to 46 fires this season, including three houses. He said there were three “trauma one” activations where they had to call Benefis trauma.

He said that some injuries from fireworks left some folks missing fingers and another person without a hand. He said it’s not a matter of getting the message out about the dangers of fireworks but rather creating an enforcement mechanism that’s effective.

Mayor Kelly proposed the idea that instead of fireworks being set off at private properties and that there be designated safe zones where people can set off fireworks with fire staff standing by. He said he got the idea after seeing a dozen or so people setting off fireworks near the Sam’s Club parking lot.

Chairperson of the Council of Councils Sandra Guynn said she liked the idea and other representatives there agreed. They discussed bringing the idea back to their councils and coming back to discuss it again at their meeting in January. Allison Tangen of Council Six suggested that councils could discuss which areas in their boundaries would be best to have a zone for launching fireworks.

Jones noted that the legislature changing the rules on what kind of fireworks are permitted and the county opening up sales of fireworks a week before the city permits sales have created issues for the department.

Police Captain Doug Otto echoed that the enforcement aspect of it is difficult with current staffing as officers have to respond to higher priority calls first. He also said that the county opening up sales earlier strains the department.

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Guynn suggested that the Council of Councils could come together as they did with the slaughterhouse petition to request to discuss this issue with the county.

Shyla Patera, representative from Council Two, asked if this should be addressed before New Year’s Eve, another holiday associated with fireworks. Otto said the department does experience similar struggles to the Fourth, but it’s much shorter-lived.

Newton gave an update to the council on the status of the Police Department’s work in the community. He said that full staffing of the department would be 89 people; currently, they’re at 83, with five additional people going through training.

Newton added that they’re struggling with getting the 911 call center staffed and that Helena is experiencing similar problems. He said they’re competing with private-sector jobs that are less stressful and pay better. However, Newton said that in switching the application process to a digital format instead of a paper application, they’ve had more applicants.

Newton said his long-term concern with staffing is that there are 14 officers that are currently retirement eligible, and although no one has expressed interest in retiring soon, it’s something he’s keeping in mind for 2022.

Newton added that domestic violence calls have been on the rise and that there has been an increase in the methamphetamine seized in the community. He said last year they seized 27 lbs. of methamphetamine, and this year, it’s up to 38 lbs. Newton said the department has been working with police in surrounding states to try to intercept drugs before they get to town, but he said that is sometimes just “hitting the top of the barrel.”

Lieutenant Tony Munkres talked to the council about Neighborhood Watch signs, which he said would cost almost $60 to install with a pole and hardware, less if there’s something to adhere them to. He said that the Department of Public Works is the point of contact for ordering and installing the signs.

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The Council of Councils, a body made up of representatives from each of the nine neighborhood councils and two commission representatives, met Tuesday night for their fall meeting. Mayor Bob Kelly and City Commissioner Owen Robinson served as the commission representatives for the evening. The council received a presentation on the impact of Fourth of…

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