Section 364.16 of the Code of Iowa requires cities to provide for the protection of life and property against fire. The code section also allows cities to establish how they will protect against fire, including setting up a fire department and entering into agreements with other entities. The majority of fire (and emergency response, if desired) departments are established by a city ordinance and are clearly a part of the city. Other cities contract with a neighboring entity to provide for the coverage of their community. Also, some cities provide service for a neighboring city or township (townships are also required to provide fire protection) for a fee. Finally, cities can support and contract with a local fire association that can assist with protection duties.
City Fire Departments
The organization of an effective city fire department begins with a sound ordinance. The ordinance should describe the duties of the fire department and its members, provide for the appointment of a fire chief, including how the appointment is to be made and detail the duties of the chief. The ordinance should also state how the city will handle matters such as workers’ compensation and liability insurance. How wages will be paid, such as on a per-call basis, can also be included; however, it is recommended that any specific amounts be done by resolution.
Contracted Fire Protection
When a city contracts to either provide for or receive fire protection from a neighboring community they will need to complete a 28E agreement. This agreement needs to include what is expected from each entity, including how the fire protection will be done, the area that will be served, storage and maintenance of equipment, sharing of costs and fees for services. City officials also need to be aware of the various mutual aid agreements it has with other cities and townships and how those affect the fire protection of their community and any associated costs.
Although this scenario is not as prevalent, some cities create an agreement with a local firefighter association to either assist with fire protection or do it completely. When entering into this type of an arrangement, it is important that the contract is detailed and includes clauses on financial contributions, insurance coverage, equipment maintenance and budget management.
Volunteer Firefighters and Workers’ Compensation
Whether a firefighter is a paid professional or a volunteer, they face the same risks when responding to a fire emergency. As a result of this potential risk, volunteer firefighters are required to be covered under the city’s workers’ compensation insurance. Volunteer firefighters can face additional risk as a result of limited training and unfamiliarity with certain fire service equipment. Fire departments should work with their insurance providers to make certain that volunteers are properly identified and covered. In addition, the city’s insurance provider can often be a resource for appropriate fire safety training.
Although publicized firefighter fatalities are associated more often with burns and smoke inhalation, cardiovascular events such as sudden cardiac arrest account for more than half of the firefighter fatalities each year according to U.S. Fire Administration. This has prompted a number of departments to take the necessary steps to protect their volunteer and professional firefighters by requiring periodic physicals geared specifically for firefighters. The time, effort and commitment to accomplish this task can be challenging, but in the long-run this practice will save additional lives. Cities should also check with their workers’ compensation and other insurance providers, as they may have specific physical requirements and guidelines.
Minimum training standards for all firefighters were established in 2010. Any member of a fire department shall have completed the training requirements identified in the job performance requirements for the Firefighter I classification in National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1001, Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications, 2002 edition, Chapter 5, prior to the member’s engaging in structural fire fighting. In addition to meeting the requirements for Firefighter I classification in NFPA 1001, the Iowa State Standard identifies 17 subject areas for continued training.
Three options are available to receive firefighter training. First, the Iowa Fire Service Training Bureau makes this training available to Iowa volunteer firefighters. Additionally, community colleges provide this training or the training could occur in-house by the department. A caution regarding in-house training would be to keep documentation of the training, and also seek the assistance of skilled trainers in the particular training areas.