Des Moines Firefighter Policy Forcing Qualified Paramedics to Wait Two Years

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Over the past decade, as the city of Des Moines has seen growth,  the numbers within the fire department have dwindled.

Des Moines Firefighters Union #4 President Joe Van Haalan has seen it first hand and said, “When I came began in 2004 we were at 311 and now today we are at 280 sworn fighters.”

Van Haalan says the city has already taken four hundred to five hundred more calls this year than it did in all of 2014.  He believes the city’s policy to place newly hired firefighters on a two year probation period before allowing them to serve as paramedics could be putting lives at risk.  Especially, he says when so many recruits are already trained as paramedics.  “It's a lot like asking a nurse or some other medical individual to just hold onto their skills and instead of practicing them, don't use them, but we will tell you when you can,” said Van Haalan.

Des Moines Assistant Fire Chief Rick Zimmerman says that is not exactly true.  “I don't see where the extended probationary period is hindering the staff.  As soon as they go out of the academy they are able to function as a firefighter and fill that role and in the meantime a senior officer can get the other capacities.”

Zimmerman says those who are qualified can still serve as paramedics during the two year probation period.  They just cannot ride along in ambulances.  They can care for patients, though, until an ambulance arrives.  Van Haalan says that is waste of resources.  “Yes they are out on the streets in trucks but they aren't allowed to drive the truck and it puts us at a real disadvantage,” said Van Haalan.

While Assistant Chief Zimmerman admits the numbers are not like years past, he says they are enough to get the job done and keep Des Moines residents safe.

“We are staffed adequately.  We could, as far as day to day operations, use a little more,” said Zimmerman.

More help could be on the way for Des Moines.  The city applied for a grant to hire new firefighters from a pool of applicants.  If the grant goes through, the city could see thirty new firefighters hired in the next few months.  If not, only fifteen will be hired.