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Cedar Falls has recently been treated to a rather heated struggle between firefighters and city staff and elected officials. The city has implemented a program of designating some police officers as Public Safety Officers.

Police officers undergo training to receive firefighter I certification. They can then fight fires alongside firefighters, although their role is more supportive than lead. The city argues police are already on the road and can usually arrive at a fire scene before the fire department. They can begin fighting the fire until the fire department arrives. In addition, some patrol cars carry foam dispensers that can be used to extinguish small fires or slow the spread of larger ones.

The city argues this is a way to get more people fighting a fire. The city also believes this can result in a cost savings to taxpayers since fewer dedicated firefighters are needed.

The firefighters and their union are opposed to these changes. They believe the safety of Cedar Falls’ firefighters and citizens is compromised by substituting police officers, who have less training and experience, for dedicated firefighters.

I understand. If I were a firefighter going into a burning building to rescue someone, I would want the best possible and most experienced people to have my back.

The battle went public. City Council meetings have been packed with people mostly objecting to the project. You might have seen yard signs around the city in support of the firefighters, expressing concern about safety in Cedar Falls. On the other side, the city has distributed position statements extolling the plan’s virtue and tax savings when the plan is fully implemented.

I don’t know if this model is a good idea or not. As a property taxpayer, I like the city’s effort to save money. But, I personally know a lot of firefighters and PSOs and would not want to see their safety jeopardized. However, it appears this plan is a done deal, at least for now.

Cedar Falls is a really nice community with good leadership, dedicated staff and an excellent group of police officers and firefighters. This public confrontation is embarrassing and accomplishes little. We have to move on. The firefighters need to end their protests and do the best they can to make this plan work. For their part, the city needs to stop antagonizing the firefighters with public missives and disparaging social media posts.

Enough already.

This may or may not work, but the decision has been made. Let’s give it a chance to see how it works. I trust the firefighters and PSOs to be careful enough so there are no needless injuries or loss of life. In the meantime, firefighters should make every effort to be successful. The city needs to monitor the progress and if this turns out to be a bad idea, drop it.

There’s nothing worse than letting pride keep us on a wrong path. But more importantly, the acrimony has to stop now. Our city deserves better.

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Fred Abraham is professor emeritus and former head of the economics department at the University of Northern Iowa. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect those of the university.


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