DES MOINES, Iowa – Saturday morning’s fire at the Equitable building downtown injured six firefighters. The local firefighters union says those injuries only added to an already stressed fire department. The department is dealing with record low staffing levels.
Local firefighters union president, Joe Van Haalen, says,” They [the firefighters] were in that building for several hours and went through several bottles of air and that`s because we were short staffed. We don`t have enough guys in there to be rotating crews as much as we like to.”
Van Haalen says the department should operate comfortably at 311 personnel. Currently the department has 285 members and a number of those are still in training.
“The fire department is an insurance policy. You want that insurance policy to be as good as it can be.”
During this weekend’s fire downtown, the department relied on the help of the West Des Moines Fire Department.
In May, members of the city council suggested the Mayor start a task force to tackle the staffing issue. There hasn’t been a formal meeting yet but Mayor Cownie says he wants to look at the number and types of calls the department is receiving before adding more firefighters.
“On occasion some people say ‘well you`ve got too many’ so that`s why you`re not watching our taxes, you’re not spending on our money properly,” says Cownie. “We have to find a good balance but public service has always been number one and public safety is part of that.”
The city spends 60–percent of its budget on public safety.