In medicine, we rely on evidence-based studies, not emotion, to guide and inform our health care. Without solid evidence, we cannot provide high quality care.
The same can be said for the city of Cedar Falls and its efforts to provide a faster, more effective response to fires while keeping the costs of these services affordable for the citizens of Cedar Falls. So, here are the evidence-based facts:
1. A recent ISO evaluation (the company that evaluates all the fire departments in the U.S.) gave Cedar Falls a 3 rating (based on established criteria) that puts the city in the top 3.5% of all departments in Iowa. The company noted there were 15 certified firefighters responding, compared with a 30-year average of 7-8 (based on payroll records).
2. Public safety officers are able to respond more quickly and frequently arrive before firetrucks. The quick response of the PSOs enables them to communicate the extent of the fire, location of hydrants and then relay this information to the firetrucks, thus saving prep time on arrival. This has led to saved lives and faster hydrant hook-ups once the trucks arrive.
3. The cross-trained officers carry their fire gear in their cars and respond immediately to a fire scene. At our two most recent structural fires, an apartment fire on Scenic and a garage fire on Cypress, seven firefighters and seven PSOs responded to each for a total of 14 trained people.
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4. In Cedar Falls, we have several examples over the past few years where lives were saved and structure damage reduced by the quick response of PSOs. The PSOs carry a compressed air foam system in their squad cars which has allowed them to knock down a fire and evacuate a resident prior to the arrival of a firetruck. This resulted in a saved life in a mobile home fire a few years ago.
5. Nationwide, fire calls are down 60% in the last 40 years (Cedar Falls has about six structure fires a year). As a result of similar experiences, many cities are looking at their fire service differently. Currently, there are more than 130 cities cross-training. This includes the Cedar Rapids Airport. Three Des Moines area cities have combination departments (volunteer/full time, paid-on-call/full time) and an auto-aid dispatch method that allows staffing at lower levels for routine, smaller calls while dispatching all three departments to structure fires.
6. If all these 130 cities felt they were putting their citizens at risk, would they be employing the public safety model?
So, in fact, we have more manpower responding more quickly to fires. And with more police working we have the added benefit of improved response to any incidents in Cedar Falls, which has been important of late. The evidence is clear: The PSO model is working, and we citizens of Cedar Falls are benefiting. We are getting great response to fires and saving taxpayers’ money at the same time.