“A Huge Difference”: Two firefighters join fire department, another to come

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 9:08 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - It’s been a tough year and a half for the Ottumwa Fire Department. Since losing six firefighters due to budget costs, Fire Chief Tony Miller has seen his guys overworked. “We’ve had a lot of on the job injuries, we’ve had a lot of injuries where people have been off on extended leave. When you lose your department - a lot of the guys were some of our younger guys - we had a lot of situations.”

But now, some pressure’s getting lifted. After approval at the first City Council meeting of the year, two new firefighters are now on staff at the department, with a third to be approved at Tuesday night’s meeting.

Fire Chief Tony Miller’s seen an immediate change in his department. The new staff minimize overtime across the department, but also give the firefighters more tools to work with at a call. “Instead of running two trucks, we’re allowed to run three trucks, which is a huge difference,” Miller explains. “A major difference.”

Especially as Miller says Winter is the peak season for fire emergencies.

But he’s not stopping with three. Miller hopes to get back to where his department sat in the first part of 2020, with three ten-person crews. Currently, they run two nine-person and one eight-person crew.

The City approved applying for a federal SAFER grant, which would fund three firefighter salaries for three years. Miller says that would get them back on track. “If we can get this SAFER grant and get up to 10-person crews, we’ll be back up to comparable cities around the state.”

And with fires trending up over the last few years, Miller’s doing everything he can to be ready. “Who knows what 2022′s going to bring. We hope we don’t have 48 structure fires. But it’s a possibility. So we’re just trying to prepare for it.”

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