Iowa police training as firefighters

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) — Some northeastern Iowa police officers are being cross-trained as firefighters to expand public safety coverage.

All Cedar Falls police officers hired after July 1, 2016, are required to cross-train in firefighting to become public safety officers. Officers are cross-trained within three years of hire and typically sooner, said Public Safety Director Jeff Olson.

Public safety officials said the cross-training is so the city can always have full-time firefighters available and to increase efficiency. Public safety officers arrive early and suppress fires until the full-time crew arrives.

But the city will still have a force of career firefighters and police officers. Council member Dave Wieland said public safety officers will continue to be hired “until we get a balance between full-time firemen and public safety officers.”

The city hasn’t hired any full-time firefighters since July 1, 2016. Cedar Falls will soon have 21 police officers trained as public safety officers to support the city’s 27 career firefighters. Olson said that combined, the city will soon have more people to fight fires than they’ve had in many years.

Critics question the cutback on full-time firefighter staffing, which has yet to be defined. Cedar Falls Firefighters Association President Jim Cook wants to know what the balance will be between unionized full-time firefighters and public safety officers.

“We’ve not seen any plan that says, ‘This is where we want to go and this is how we’re going to get there,'” said Cook.

Mayor Jim Brown and council members said the city can modify the approach once an optimum public safety officer staffing has been reached or if there’s high turnover among full-time firefighters.