DES MOINES, Iowa — It was training day for the captains and lieutenants leading Des Moines’ ten fire stations as they practiced forced entries slicing through and prying open steel doors.
Firefighters say it’s a task that requires multiple people from someone to work the saw or ax, a person to back them up, and a firefighter to retrieve more equipment from the truck.
“Nothing that we do is a single firefighter job. Everything we do requires the work of a team and this training is no exception,” said Joe Hogan, a captain with the Des Moines Fire Department.
This training comes at a time when there are questions as to whether the department has enough staff to handle a growing amount of calls.
The issue was brought to light Tuesday when a shooting victim arrived walked into a station without a medic on hand.
Des Moines Fire Union President Joe Van Haalen says the department currently has 283 bodies and as few as 60 firefighters per shift due to vacation, injury, and military leave. Van Haalen would like to see the fire department operate at between 315-320 employees with 82 firefighters per shift.
“We’re going to have to get some more people on the fire department. That’s probably the top priority. At the same time, we need to do a better job allocating the resources we have today. We have problems staffing our specialty teams, wet teams, rescue teams on a regular basis,” Van Haalen told Channel 13 News.
While staffing is a concern, the demand on the department isn’t going down.
Van Haalen says as of last week, the department has received nearly 500 more calls than they had at this time last year and it appears the issue of short staffing could get worse before it gets better.
Van Haalen says there are currently 30 firefighters between the ages of 55 and 60 and 100 firefighters within seven years of retirement.
Replacing them isn’t easy as it takes 1-2 years to get someone through training and fire fighters from smaller departments often don’t have the training to jump right into a job in Des Moines.
An official with the Des Moines Fire Department says the issue is being addressed.
A third party company has begun conducting a study, looking into staffing and equipment concerns and how to best allocate what the department already has.
That study is expected to be completed by the end of the year.