Cedar Falls Fire Department's staffing questioned - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Cedar Falls Fire Department's staffing questioned

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Concerns are being raised about the ability of one fire department to respond to fires with its current staff.

This comes after two fires within a three-hour period this weekend.

Both fires were in what is considered rural areas without fire hydrants, which requires extra water tankers.

The back-to-back fires have raised concerns for some.

One Cedar Falls man, who is a Waterloo firefighter brought his worries to the Cedar Falls City Council meeting on Monday.

In years past, the Cedar Falls Firefighter Association has been vocal about what they believe is an understaffed department.

The association's current president, Jim Cook, says they continue to have those concerns.

 "Yes, if there were more firefighters that were staffed on shift daily, there is greater chance that they are able to respond to these incidences in a quicker manner. That is their function," said Cook.

KWWL looking into the city's current public safety strategy.

The two fires on Sunday morning both required extra staff.

On a normal shift, the City of Cedar Falls Fire Department has 6 to 9 firefighters.

Those firefights are backed up by on-call staff as well as Public Safety Officers (PSO) which are police officers cross-trained as firefighters.

"Cedar Falls has never ever been able to put on the street as many firefighters as we have currently, between career, alternative staff, including the PSOs. We can put more firefighters on-scene than we have ever been able to put on-scene," said Cedar Falls Fire Chief John Bostwick.

According to Public Safety Director Jeff Olson, roughly 20 people responded to each fire on Sunday. That is not counting the Janesville and Hudson Fire Departments, who provided extra water tankers.

"We can have those Public Safety Officers roaming around in a police car and at a moment's notice, when a fire call comes in, most people can respond directly to that scene. They have their fire gear in the car. They can change into their fire gear. At times, they are on-scene before the firefighters arrive," said Chief Bostwick.

A PSO did just that at the second fire on Ridgeway, Sunday, using a compressed air foam system in the back of a squad car to start fighting the fire.

"Part of the problem with fire departments is you have a lot of downtime and that isn't a very efficient use of people. If you can throw a new duty that way and get more productivity out of the individual, the taxpayer is getting more bang for their buck," said Director Olson.

But Cedar Falls Firefighter Association President Jim Cook says they fear the transition is moving too rapidly.

"We don't have enough staff on either side to function appropriately. That is why we think it is just too quick for the city to be moving in this direction," said Cook.

Chief Bostwick says the department does have fewer full-time firefighters than in decades past, but a similar staffing total with the alternative staff.

The alternative staff like Public Safety Officers is a strategy, Chief Bostwick says, many departments in the nation are using.

To break it down:

-Cedar Falls has 29 firefighters

-2 paid-on-call city workers trained as firefighters.

-2 part-time firefighters

-12 Cedar Falls Police who are cross-trained officers 

-Total of 45 firefighters

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