A few weeks ago, I had a nice time touring the Muscatine Fire Department and learning more about how the department works. Now, I’m going to give you a more in-depth look at how the Fire Department organizes itself in order to protect and care for Muscatine’s citizens. Today, I will tell you about staffing and the procedures in place to assure that Fire and EMS services are carried out safely and effectively.
The Fire Department is a 37 uniformed member department. This includes a Fire Chief and an Assistant Chief who each work a 40 hour per week schedule and 35 members who each work a 56 hour work week on 24 hour shifts.
There are three different shift rotations that 35 members of the Fire Department work within – Blue, Green and Red shifts. Two shifts have 12 personnel and one shift has 11. I’m going to break down the shift process and explain how it works. Each shift works every other day over a 5 day period (meaning they work 3 out of 5 days), followed by four days off before repeating the cycle. So, say Blue shift started Monday, they’d be off Tuesday, work Wednesday, be off Thursday, work Friday, then have Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off before they started the rotation over again on Wednesday.
Here it is again in list form:
- Monday – work
- Tuesday – off
- Wednesday – work
- Thursday – off
- Friday – work
- Saturday – off
- Sunday – off
- Monday – off
- Tuesday – off
Keep in mind that while firefighters do have days off in between their work shifts, after working a 24 hour shift, they likely need to rest and recover from the work.
The Fire Department also has two members of civilian support staff: a full-time ambulance billing manager and a part-time office coordinator.
Muscatine has two staffed fire stations strategically located in our community to maximize coverage and response times. When I toured both facilities, I appreciated hearing about why they chose the locations and how they determined which equipment would be kept in each one.
The Public Safety Building (PSB), located at 312 E 5th St., is the main fire station. It has a minimum of 7 and a maximum of 10 personnel staffing ambulances, an engine and an aerial ladder. Station #2, located at 2124 Stewart Rd., is staffed with two personnel and houses an ambulance, engine and the Haz Mat vehicle. The City of Muscatine requires that there be at least 9 firefighters working at all times.
When a shift is fully staffed, the PSB will staff the following vehicles: 3-4 members (depending on which shift) on Engine 311, 2 on Ambulance 351, 2 on Ambulance 352 and Truck 310 (aerial ladder), and 2 on Ambulance 353. In total, with fully staffed circumstances, the PSB would have 9 or 10 members of the Fire Department ready and assigned to the various response vehicles.
Station #2 is always staffed with two members no matter what the daily staffing at the PSB is for the shift. This means that even if the numbers at the PSB begin to dwindle, there will always be two members of the Fire Department working out of Station #2. These two staff members are responsible for three vehicles: an engine, an ambulance and the Haz Mat vehicle. Based on the needs expressed in the call for service, the firefighters at Station #2 will use the vehicle that is necessary for that response.
As I learned more about the process of staffing and responding to calls, I was impressed with the emphasis the Fire Department places on protocol and following procedure. They always have plans in place for backup in the event they need more help. For example, Station #2 only has two members staffed there at a time because based on call volume it makes sense to have the majority of the fire fighters on duty at the PSB. Station #2 only averages 12% of calls, while PSB averages 72% plus 16% for the East Hill area (which is the area for the future third station). However, even if the two personnel at Station #2 go out on a call that does not mean the station is closed, but that they are out working and doing their job. Backup from PSB or other communities with mutual aid or auto aid help to fulfill the needs if other calls arise.
The Muscatine Fire Department has an auto aid agreement for structure fires with Fruitland, which means that at the 1st alarm Fruitland’s firefighters will respond. The 2nd and 3rd alarms will send out aid requests to those who are mutual aid partners for structure fires. On the 2nd alarm, Wilton’s firefighters and 10 off-duty Muscatine firefighters will be notified. On the 3rd alarm, West Liberty’s firefighters and all off-duty personnel for Muscatine will get the signal.
Chief Ewers explained to me that they do have a plan in place if their resources are already out on other calls, dropping the number of fire fighters on a shift to fewer than nine (as is the City’s requirement for staffing). The numbers may drop under nine for a variety of reasons, such as vacation, sick time, funeral leave or due to a two person ambulance crew taking an inter-facility transport to another community. In these cases, off-duty members are issued a call that they may come in to work for overtime to maintain the required nine personnel. Part-time ambulance attendants are also utilized for inter-facility transports, but they cannot perform firefighting functions. In 2014, the average amount of overtime worked by a firefighter was 155 hours for the year.
Occasionally, the number of personnel on duty drops below nine due to calls for service, inter-facility transports by ambulances or the inability to fill overtime slots. In these cases, the Fire Department makes every attempt to fill those slots in a timely manner and has plans in place to continue meeting the community’s needs. It is obviously not an ideal situation when there are fewer than nine firefighters on duty, but those times are not the norm. This only happens occasionally. The City of Muscatine is never without a plan in place to adequately fight fires. Chief Ewers and the rest of the team work hard each day to ensure safety for Muscatine.
So, that’s what I’ve got for your about the Muscatine Fire Department and the way they handle staffing. I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit more about how this crucial department works.
Coming next in this series about the Fire Department will be:
Part 2: Information about the SAFER Grant and how it can help fund the hiring of more firefighters
Part 3: OSHA Respiratory Protection and procedures the Muscatine Fire Department adheres to in fighting structure fires
Part 4: An overview of the Muscatine Fire Department’s auto aid and mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities
Be watching for more information about the Fire Department!