Des Moines and Altoona Firefighters Overcoming Learning Curve in Mutual Aid Services

DES MOINES, Iowa -- For the past month, the Des Moines and Altoona Fire Departments have worked together, using each other's services. It's the first formal mutual aid agreement for the city of Des Moines and is much-needed.

"We need to rely on each other for some help," says president of the Des Moines Firefighters Union, Joe Van Haalen. "So when they guys are out, we have a far distance to go out to the northeast side of town. It allows for Altoona to come in where they are little bit quicker than we could even get another squad from the city into that area."

Firetrucks and medics from Fire Station Number 3 on Easton Boulevard and Hubbell Avenue will work most closely with Altoona.

For years, the Des Moines Fire Department has needed additional resources on the city's northeast side, while Altoona has needed extra help for the western half of the city.  When previously responding to that area of town, it took crews too much time to arrive. The city was failing to meet the required eight-minute response time benchmark.

"Time is everything in this, whether it be fire or medical. You’ve got that window of three to five minutes. It's that golden time where we can get to them and make a difference," Van Haalen says.

So far, Des Moines firefighters say the partnership is going well, but there is a learning curve. The two departments do not operate under the same dispatch system or radio frequencies. They have been forced to apply what they call "patches" to dispatch call lines and frequencies that allow crews to communicate easier while being outside of each other's jurisdictions.

Both cities are considering building one new fire station on the northeast side of Des Moines; however, there are no formal plans in the works.