By BILL SHEA
Messenger staff writer
Whenever a commercial airliner comes to Fort Dodge Regional Airport on a holiday or a weekend, a city firefighter is present just in case something goes wrong.
Fort Dodge Fire Department CApt. Paul Neeson, left, and firefighter Loren Helgevold inventory supplies in one of the department’s two new ambulances.
Other specially trained firefighters strap on bulletproof vests to provide emergency medical support to police officers conducting high-risk search and seizure operations.
Firefighters are also operating two ambulances that are used for both emergency calls and the transfer of patients from one hospital to another.
The airport standby system, tactical medic program and the ambulance service are all new initiatives of the Fort Dodge Fire Department.
And the department is poised to change again this year with a planned reorganization that will provide a greater emphasis on fire prevention and inspections.
''We all have an obligation to provide as many services as we can with the resources that are given to us,'' said Fire Chief David Luers.
''It's pretty remarkable the things we've done as a group in one year,'' he added.
Capt. Steve Hergenreter said the firefighters are committed to giving better services to the citizens while providing more savings for the city's general fund budget.
In fact, Luers has submitted a proposed 2012-2013 budget that provides a full range of services, including the new fire prevention effort, while spending about $77,000 less in general fund money.
Airport standby duty
The Federal Aviation Administration requires that at least one trained firefighter be present when commercial airliners are taking off or landing at the local airport. For years, that duty has been fulfilled by airport maintenance workers who are cross-trained as firefighters.
Beginning in October 2010, city firefighters began providing the airport coverage on holidays and weekends. Their presence eliminates the need to put an airport maintenance worker on overtime to cover those flights.
City Manager David Fierke said the firefighters' work will save the city $15,000 to $18,000 a year in overtime costs.
Luers said eight firefighters are trained in aircraft rescue and firefighting. He said they had to complete special training in Cedar Rapids.
City firefighters will expand their airport work this year by providing standby service for the weekday flights that arrive at night, according to Luers.
Rushing into a building in search of an armed felon or a meth lab is a mission full of risk for the police officers who do it. To provide immediate care if an officer is injured in that kind of situation, the fire and police departments teamed up in 2011 to create a tactical medic program.
Three firefighters who are also paramedics have taken additional training to provide the service. Fire Department Lt. Jeff Hill said they wear bulletproof vests and backpacks stuffed with medical gear, including small oxygen tanks. He said two of the three firefighter/paramedics accompany the police on high risk jobs. And while they may not rush into a suspected criminal hideout with the police, they stay very close to the officers.
Hill said the tactical medic teams were used six or seven times last year.
The Fire Department has provided some level of emergency medical care for more than a century. A Sept. 23, 1910, article in the Fort Dodge Daily Chronicle mentions an emergency case prepared for the department by Dr. C.H. Mulroney, the city health officer, which was carried at all times on the hose wagon.
In more recent times, a fire truck has been sent on all medical emergency calls, enabling firefighters to provide lifesaving care in the minutes before an ambulance from Trinity Regional Medical Center arrives.
A fire truck still rolls on all medical calls. But in the last year, the Fire Department acquired two ambulances and began providing a medical transport service.
Trinity Regional Medical Center remains the primary provider of ambulance service. But when the hospital is short-handed or is faced with a large number of emergencies at one time, the Fire Department ambulances are used.
Luers said the arrangement ensures that there is always an ambulance available in the city.
Most of the city's 31 firefighters have medical training. The department's roster includes five paramedics, 10 advanced emergency medical technicians and 11 emergency medical technicians. Any new firefighters hired in the future will be required to earn paramedic certification.
The department's ambulance service is financed by fees charged for the service, not property tax dollars.
Luers has introduced a plan to reorganize the department in a way that will provide a more thorough approach to fire prevention and building inspections.
An upcoming retirement will clear the way for the reorganization, which will also change the command structure of the department.
Currently, each of the department's three shifts is commanded by an assistant chief. One of those assistant chiefs, Kerry Miklo, will retire this summer. The remaining two assistant chiefs, Woody Wolfe and Doug Ostbloom, will be reassigned and will no longer be shift commanders.
Wolfe will become the assistant chief of operations, according to Luers. Among other things, he will be responsible for personnel, vehicles and the firehouse at 1515 Central Ave.
Ostbloom will become the assistant fire chief in charge of fire prevention and inspections. He will work closely with building inspectors in the city's Department of Business Affairs and Community Growth, Luers said. Ostbloom will conduct the most complex fire safety inspections himself. He will also train and oversee the other firefighters who will do the more basic inspections.
Hergenreter said Ostbloom will provide ''one unified interpretation of the fire code.''
After the assistant fire chiefs are reassigned, the department's captains - Hergenreter, Mitch Sells and Paul Neeson - will become the shift commanders.
The changes are to go into effect on July 1.
Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org