More under one roof: FDFD adds ambulance service, plans building upgrades

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Several Fort Dodge firefighters dig through the debris of a home at 3015 Ninth Ave. S. to put out hotspots after it was shattered by a gas explosion. Some of the debris in the photo was blown outward by the force of the explosion, possibly including the door on the ground.

The Fort Dodge Fire Department became the sole provider of ambulance service for the city last year in a move that meant adding more personnel and equipment.

This year the 52-year-old firehouse will be expanded and renovated in the first of a series of projects to provide modern workspace for a fire and rescue team of 47 members.

As all those changes evolve, the alarm tones keep sounding and the fire trucks and ambulances keep rolling out the big red doors on the way to another crisis.

The department responded to about 4,700 calls in 2018, according to Fire Chief Steve Hergenreter. He estimated that it will respond to about 6,000 calls this year.

Ambulance service

-Messenger file photo by Peter Kaspari
TOP: Fort Dodge Firefighters Kyle Porter, left, and Orlando Peace help Michael Lundberg as he dives into Moorland Pond to located a car that was submerged underwater.

For decades, the Fire Department had worked with UnityPoint Health — Trinity Regional Medical Center as a first responder to medical emergencies. That meant that a fire truck staffed by firefighters cross-trained as paramedics or emergency medical technicians responded along with ambulances from the hospital.

In 2012, the department began operating a limited ambulance service to supplement what the hospital provided. Fire Department ambulances were used when a hospital ambulance wasn’t available. The department’s ambulances also responded alongside those of the hospital when there was an emergency, like a vehicle accident, in which several people were injured.

In early 2017, the City Council and the hospital’s board of directors commissioned a study to see if there was a more efficient way to provide emergency medical services to the community. Fitch & Associates, of Platte City, Missouri, was hired to do the study at a cost of $48,000. The cost was split evenly between the city and the hospital.

That firm released its report in October 2017. It did not call for the Fire Department or the hospital to become the sole provider of ambulance service. Instead, it made 36 specific recommendations and urged the creation of a panel to oversee implementing those changes.

City and hospital officials began talking about emergency medical service changes and in May 2018 they announced that the Fire Department would assume full responsibility for the ambulance service on July 1, 2018.

-Messenger file photo by Peter Kaspari
Fort Dodge firefighters and paramedics tend to a man who was seriously injured in a rollover accident near South Eighth Street and Fifth Avenue South.

“The new structure will ensure a more sustainable model for both entities while continuing the strong collaboration in delivering high quality emergency medical service to the community,” Hergenreter said in announcing the transition.

The transition marked the end of an era for the hospital, which had the longest running hospital-based ambulance service in the state. That service began in 1958, when the medical center was known as Lutheran Hospital.

“For us, it made sense to go down to just one entity,” said Mike Dewerff, who was the president and chief executive officer of UnityPoint Health — Fort Dodge when the transition was announced.

“Doing what is best for the community has and continues to be our priority,” he said. “This study illustrated the importance of the shared governance and while we take pride in our EMS services we provided over the decades, we know this transition is ultimately best for the community.”

The Fire Department ambulances serve Fort Dodge, Barnum, Coalville, Moorland, Otho and rural areas of Webster County close to the city limits. They also respond farther afield to help units such as the Southwest Webster Emergency Medical Service in Gowrie whenever those units have a critically ill or injured patient who needs advanced life support.

-Messenger file photo by Hans Madsen
Fort Dodge Firefighter Shea Springer gives the hobby horse obstacle course a try during the Relay For Life of Webster County on the City Square in Fort Dodge. Springer completed the course in 20 seconds.

To handle the new ambulance service demands, the City Council hired three additional firefighter-paramedics, an emergency medical services supervisor and eight civilian paramedics and EMTs who are not cross-trained as firefighters.

Those additions brought the department’s staffing up to 47 people.

Two ambulances were also added to the department’s fleet. The city leased two units from the hospital. Those units will be replaced this month with two new ones.

Firehouse renovations

The firehouse at 1515 Central Ave. opened in 1966. An addition to house the regional hazardous materials team vehicles and equipment was constructed about 2005.

This spring, a major, multi-phase project to modernize the structure is to begin.

The firehouse, Hergenreter said, is an “important piece of infrastructure that is just worn out.”

“This is actually the last city facility to get upgraded,” he added.

The project will accomplish two things: replacing failing plumbing and providing modern sleeping quarters and bathrooms for a department that now has six women members.

“When this was built, they had no dreams of females working in the department,” Hergenreter said.

The plan calls for building a 40-by-90-foot addition onto the east side of the station. The addition will hold 12 individual dorm rooms and a fitness room.

Hergenreter said each firefighter will be assigned to a dorm room and their designated lockers will be right outside that dorm room.

The fitness room will replace a weight room in the basement and another exercise area that’s in the garage area behind some fire trucks.

The current sleeping rooms will become a training area.

In the process of building the addition, new water lines and sanitary sewers will be installed. When the firehouse was built, those pipes were embedded in the block walls. The pipes cannot be reached for repairs. As a result leaks and blockages are nearly impossible to fix.

“The plumbing is just an absolute disaster,” Hergenreter said.

A steam boiler will be replaced with three furnaces.

The project is estimated to cost $1.4 million.

Hergenreter said he expects work to begin this spring and continue until the end of the year.