Cedar Falls continues to train public safety officers, Waterloo - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Cedar Falls continues to train public safety officers, Waterloo opposed

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Despite criticism, the city of Cedar Fall stands behind its model of using Public Safety Officers. 

Currently, 16 people are training to become PSO's. The city already has 20 trained PSO's, meaning they will soon have a total 36 officers who are cross-trained in both police and fire.

Every new hire goes through PSO training, but it is required for current staff. 

Public Safety Director Chief Olson says PSO's are required to complete classroom and skills training. 

"They do have to pass a couple of written tests for the state of Iowa," said Olson. "One's the Firefighter I and one's a Hazmat class, and they have to pass that test as well. And then we have our skills portion of the test too, where they're actually out there in their gear, working with the ladders, or working with the trucks, or the hoses, whatever the case may be."

In addition, PSO's are also required to take a monthly training class.

Pointing to numbers, Olson says cross-trained officers mean more bodies on the scene quicker.

"It becomes a bigger value when they're in the squad car and they can respond immediately to the scene and be help immediately."

At a recent Cedar Falls fire along Beaver Ridge Trail, Olson says they had 6 on duty firefighters respond, but 11 public safety officers, which is why they're continuing to train public safety officers. 

Chief Olson says the current PSO class is taught by Captain Bobby Wright who has nearly 20 years of experience. 

Lieutenant Brooke Heuer, who's been with the Cedar Falls Police department for 17 years is one of five women in the current class.

"It's always good to know more and more what you can do, how can you help people,' said Heuer. "For instance, being on an accident scene, trying to get someone out of a car. Well, what tools are using, how are you doing that."

The city's staffing model of PSO's has been met with criticism.

"You hear people make comparisons 'well that's like electricians do a plumbing job.,'" said Olson. "Okay, people are capable of that. In fact, there are many firefighters that cross-train as paramedics and nobody seems to criticize that. Over 130 departments that have a public safety model in the United States, and it continues to grow."

The city says by the summer of 2018, they will have 60 people on staff able to respond to fires, making it the biggest number the fire department has ever seen in its history. 

The topic of cross-trained officers was most recently brought up during a Waterloo budget work session. Councilman Steve Schmitt raised the question of whether the Waterloo police department has explored other avenues, including the public safety officer model used in Cedar Falls. 

"Our department is extremely busy, we handle about six calls for service an hour," said Captain Joe Leibold. "We write one report every hour. We make one arrest every two hours, we write a ticket every two hours. So start pulling those guys out, because a case is going to take a couple hours, an arrest is going to take a couple hours. All that stuff adds up, my fear would be that our resources-if the fire department was relying on them-would simply not be available."

Waterloo Police Chief Dan Trelka agrees with the heavy workload officers already face, saying he is not a proponent for PSO's in Waterloo. 

"Waterloo police officers handle a tremendous amount of calls for service each day," said Chief Trelka. "They simply don’t have the time available to assist the fire department in fighting fires. It is my opinion that there are too many perishable skills to maintain as a public safety officer. This is based upon my nearly 30 years of experience in three different states, as well as my military experience.There are usually different and distinct personality traits in those who desire to be a police officer and those who desire to be a fire fighter. In my mind this could create challenges in regard to hiring."

Chief Trelka believes the concept may work in smaller, less active communities. 

"If it was good for every community, many communities would already be doing it; most communities don’t," said Chief Trelka. 

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