Use of consumer fireworks may increase due to COVID-19 and cancellation of Fourth of July Fireworks show

Residents urged to follow safety guidelines for an injury free holiday season

Fireworks and the Fourth of July have a long standing relationship but this year’s celebration of our nation’s independence will be different and without many of the festivities that were enjoyed by Muscatine visitors and residents a year ago.

The Fourth of July holiday season will, undoubtedly, still be accompanied by the discharging of consumer fireworks from the homes of area residents including the use of sparklers, firecrackers, and other large displays.

Residents are reminded, however, that the legal discharge of consumer fireworks is limited to just two days in July. Muscatine City Code states that consumer fireworks can be legally discharged July 3 and July 4 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. only.

The Greater Muscatine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GMCCI) decided to cancel the annual Fourth of July parade and fireworks demonstration out of concern that residents would not be able to practice the social distancing guidelines recommended by the Iowa Department of Public Health in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. The decision was made after consulting with the City of Muscatine and with Trinity Muscatine Public Health officials.

“As disappointing as it is to cancel this long-standing community tradition, we want to take every precaution to keep members of our community safe and healthy,” Erik Reader, GMCCI President & CEO, said. “We are still looking to have a community celebration of sorts, but later in the summer. At this time we are exploring rescheduling the fireworks, adding live music, and trying to find ways to support small businesses that have been impacted by the recent events.”

Muscatine Mayor Diana Broderson echoed Readers’ comment and joined with other City officials in stating the importance of public safety.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our citizens and of the visitors to our community,” Broderson said. “The current health crisis has brought significant challenges to our lives. While it is disappointing that this celebration cannot be held, we will be able to enjoy these types of celebrations in the near future by following the guidelines provided for social distancing and personal hygiene.”

Consumer fireworks will still be, and currently are (although not legally), discharged by residents in the weeks and days leading up to the Fourth of July. Citizens are urged to be responsible regarding the use of fireworks and to remain within the guidelines established in the Muscatine City Code.

Public safety is also the foremost concern for local and state officials in the governance of the sale and use of consumer fireworks.

“Fireworks can have far reaching consequences that are usually not considered when they are ignited,” Kevin Jenison, City of Muscatine Communications Manager, said.

Local government and public safety officials share deep concern for the individuals who discharge the fireworks, those individuals who are in the vicinity when fireworks are discharged, those individuals who may be affected by the noise created by the explosions, for the homes, businesses, or other structures that may be ignited by fireworks, and for household pets.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission states that the Fourth of July, and the month surrounding it, is the most dangerous time for fireworks related injuries. The majority of fireworks-related injuries involve the hands and fingers (41 percent) with the head are second (19 percent).

Trinity Muscatine Emergency Department received six trauma cases from the surrounding area due to severe firework related injuries in July 2019. Muscatine County Public Health also reported additional firework related impacts including a reported dismemberment and one death in the area. Many more firework related injuries went unreported.

While the skies may be dark along the Mississippi River riverfront without the annual fireworks show, expectations are that reaction to the COVID-19 health crisis will create more celebrations at the homes of Muscatine residents.

“The Police Department had about a dozen firework calls over the weekend,” Mike Hartman, Assistant Fire Chief, said.

Applications for tents have been received for various locations including the Muscatine Mall, Blain’s, Fareway, Hy-Vee, Wal-Mart, and Menards, and inside sales at planned at Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee Mainstreet, Wal-Mart, and Menards. The Muscatine Fire Department have approved two tents to sell and beginning their safety inspections of the other locations.

The City of Muscatine encourages residents to be good neighbors when discharging fireworks, to be considerate to any neighbors who might have a sensitivity to fireworks noise, to be mindful of pets who may become frightened by the firework explosions, and to be mindful of the property lines of others who may not want fireworks on their real property.

Per state law, a person shall not use, explode, or discharge consumer fireworks on real property other than that person’s real property or on the real property of a person who has consented to the use of consumer fireworks on that property. Sidewalks, the right-of-way between sidewalks and the street, and the City streets are all public property and thus are prohibited. Parks, trails, public parking lots and so on are also off limits.

Using fireworks outside the designated dates and times listed below is considered to be a violation and can result in fines of no less than $250 per violation. Anyone discharging fireworks or allowing the discharge of fireworks on their property assumes responsibility for that discharge and the consequences, if warranted.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) offers these recommendations:

  1. Do not allow young children to play with fireworks. Sparklers, a firework often considered by many to be the ideal “safe” device for the young, burn at very high temperatures and should not be handled by young children. Children may not understand the danger involved with fireworks and may not act appropriately while using the devices.
  2. Persons under the age of 18 shall not discharge any fireworks without adult supervision.
  3. Do not allow any running or horseplay in or around the fireworks firing area or with fireworks.
  4. Set off fireworks outdoors in a clear area, away from houses, dry leaves, or grass and other flammable materials.
  5. Keep a bucket of water nearby for emergencies and for pouring on fireworks that fail to ignite or explode.
  6. Do not try to relight or handle malfunctioning fireworks. Soak them with water and throw them away.
  7. Be sure other people are out of range before lighting fireworks.
  8. Never light fireworks in a container, especially a glass or metal container.
  9. Keep unused fireworks away from firing areas.
  10. Store fireworks in a cool, dry place.
  11. Check instructions for special storage directions.
  12. Observe local laws.
  13. Never have any portion of your body directly over a firework while lighting.
  14. Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.

Report any fires in buildings, vehicles, or greenspaces by calling 911 immediately!

Enjoy a safe holiday season.

More information can be found on the City of Muscatine Firework Safety page.

Successful bulky waste program gets a needed makeover; changes to help residents schedule collection days

A load of bulky waste collected from residents heads to the Muscatine Transfer Station.

MUSCATINE, Iowa – Curbside bulky waste collection has been a tremendous success, so much so that the Department of Public Works (DPW) has doubled the number of collections per day and lifted restrictions on scheduling to allow residents to plan for pickups weeks or months in advance.

“Maybe it is because more people are staying home following the Iowa Department of Public Health guidelines, or maybe it is just the season to do spring cleaning,” Brian Stineman, Public Works Director, said. “Whatever the reason we have been receiving a lot of requests and have modified our procedures to meet those needs.”

Following discussions by Public Works staff last winter, the Curbside Bulky Waste Collection Program was launched in February to ease the financial, equipment, and personnel costs associated with was formally called Spring Cleanup Week.

The Solid Waste Division of the Department of Public Works recommended the elimination of the designated Spring Cleanup Week in favor of a program that residents would be able to use throughout the year. Residents were already offered three free pickups per calendar year, which was never fully utilized, and the new program combine and expands on the old programs.

“The financial, equipment, and personnel costs associated with the collection effort associated with Spring Cleanup Week were unnecessary,” Stineman said. “And it took resources away from work on other projects such as street repair.”

Initially the program had residents calling or emailing the Transfer Station to schedule a collection at least two days before and up to a week in advance of their refuse collection day. A maximum of 20 collections would be scheduled each day.

Demand for the city service exceeded expectations and resulted in increasing the number of pickups per day and allowing residents to schedule collections as far in advance as needed.

“Not only have we gone from 20 to 30 and now to 40 collections per day, we are now allowing residents to schedule future pickups as needed.” Stineman said.

Solid Waste Manager David Popp added that another reason for the changes was that the piles that the staff was seeing were exceeding the size limits of the program.

“Many of the piles that we are seeing are exceeding the size as listed in the program,” Popp said. “If residents need to, they can schedule more than one week while on the phone.”

Remember … the sticker may be in the mail but you have to request one first

Stineman also noted that residents who want to dispose of yard waste at the Compost Facility can do so during regular site hours but a Compost Facility Sticker is needed. If you do not have one yet, contact the Transfer Station and one will be mailed to you after verification of address.

Stickers would normally be available for pickup at the Transfer Station, Public Works, or City Hall but these facilities are currently closed to the public in response to COVID-19 guidelines.

Once the Transfer Station, and other City buildings, reopen to the public, the Compost Facility Stickers will be available at locations. Residents requesting a sticker will be asked for their name, address, phone number, and make and model of the vehicle they will use to bring waste to the Compost Facility.

The site is located at the Muscatine Transfer Station, 1000 S. Houser St., Muscatine. Regular hours are 12-6 p.m. Sunday through Friday and from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays.

So what can be left curbside for the city to collect?

Among the items accepted for residential curbside pickup are furniture (couch, chair, recliner, table), mattresses (must be in a bag), carpet (no longer than four feet, rolled, and secured), dismantled swing sets, minimal building materials (not to exceed a pick up load measuring 8’x4’x2’), extra trash bags (smaller items must be bagged), and appliances (two free per year per address).

“We are only accepting small quantities of construction materials,” David Poll, Solid Waste Manager, said. “And these materials should not have nails or screws protruding from them that may injure staff as they are picking them up.”

Bags for mattresses are available for free at the Transfer Station. With the Transfer Station closed to the public at the present time, residents need to call the Transfer Station for directions on how to obtain a bag. Residents can also use the bag their new mattress came in.

What is not accepted for curbside pickup?

Among the items that will not be picked up as part of the bulky waste curbside collection are sheds, garages, and excessive building materials, concrete or brick, paint and household hazardous waste, camper refrigerator and camper air conditioners, car bodies, tires, electronics, and fencing.

Concrete or brick can be taken by the resident to the Public Works yard on Washington Street. Paint and household hazardous waste will be accepted at no charge at the Transfer Station once that location has reopened to the public.

Electronics will be accepted at the Transfer Station for a fee once that facility reopens to the public. A Free Electronics Drop Off Week is scheduled for July 13-18. During this week, residents who have City of Muscatine refuse service can bring three (3) electronics to the Transfer Station for disposal at no charge with proof of address (driver’s license or piece of mail).

Tires will be accepted at the Transfer Station for a fee one that facility reopens to the public. A Free Tire Drop Off Week is scheduled for July 20-25. During this week, residents who have City of Muscatine refuse service can bring four (4) tires (off of the rim) to the Transfer Station at no charge with proof of address (driver’s license or piece of mail).

Essential services maintained during COVID-19 outbreak

The stay-at-home guidelines associated with COVID-19 may have helped to increase interest in the collection effort, and the Department of Public Works has responded to meet that increased interest. This service to the citizens of Muscatine and Fruitland, along with the curbside collection of refuse, recycling, and yard waste, has continued during the COVID-19 outbreak.

CALL TO SCHEDULE CURBSIDE BULK PICKUP

Residents can call 563-264-JUNK (563-264-5865) or email bulkywaste@muscatineiowa.gov to schedule a curbside collection on the resident’s regular collection day. Due to the popularity of the program, residents are urged to contact the Transfer Station as soon as possible.

Pickups are completed on the residents’ regular refuse collection day but can be scheduled weeks in advance.

The schedule for each collection day fills up fast and a resident may have to postpone their collection to a future date.

If you email or leave a phone message with your name and phone number, a staff member will call, review the items to be picked up to ensure they are acceptable, and confirm the day for collection.

Visit Curbside Bulk Collection for more details.

CITY STILL PICKING UP YARD WASTE CURBSIDE

The City of Muscatine continues to offer curbside pickup of grass clippings, leaves, and garden waste placed in City of Muscatine Yard Waste bags on the residents’ regular refuse collection day. These bags are available at Hy-Vee, Hy-Vee Main Street, and Fareway. They will also be available at the Transfer Station when that facility is open to the public.

Tree limbs and other trimmings from trees and shrubs will also be collected curbside as long as they are bundled with string or cord in four-foot lengths. Contact Public Works (563-263-8933) for curbside collection of larger tree limbs.

Bags, tree limbs, and other trimmings should be placed near refuse container on the day of scheduled pickup.

Visit Yard Waste Collection for more details.

COMPOST FACILITY OPEN BUT ONLY WITH A STICKER

The Compost Facility at the Muscatine Transfer Station remains open for residents of Muscatine and Fruitland to deposit yard waste but only to those who have the Compost Facility Sticker. The Compost sticker identifies residents of Muscatine and Fruitland who can take yard waste to the Compost Facility for free.

Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the Compost Facility attendants will not accept cash or checks at this time, thus limiting access to the facility to those who can prove there are residents of Muscatine with a sticker.

For more information, visit Compost Facility on the City of Muscatine website.

Recycled asphalt “cooked” into hot mix and used in small street repairs by Department of Public Works

PHOTO GALLERY

MUSCATINE, Iowa – The Roadway Maintenance Division of the Department of Public Works (DPW) has a new tool in their arsenal to combat the numerous small street repair issues (pot holes, etc.) that are exposed every winter, a tool that that creates new hot asphalt mix using recycled asphalt.

Hot asphalt is usually not available during the winter months when the ground is not warm and dry enough. Hot asphalt is mixed at 300 degrees Fahrenheit but cool temperatures can cause the mix to cool too quickly and make it unusable as permanent asphalt. Manufacturing plants that create the hot asphalt mix normally shut down mid-November through March because of the cooler air and ground temperatures.

Muscatine, like most entities charged with roadway maintenance, uses a cold mix during the winter months. Cold mix does not require heat to become flexible and, with additives, stays soft when stockpiled for six months. However, this is a temporary patch that takes time to cure and not the best choice for high traffic areas.

While cold mix will still be used, the purchase of a KM International T2 Asphalt Recycler and KM 8000TEDD Hotbox/Reclaimer by the City of Muscatine means that hot mix would be available for more permanent repairs in small pot holes.

“We do not have the capability to repair large areas with the hot mix but we will be able to do repairs to smaller pot holes in high traffic areas,” Brian Stineman, DPW Director said.

The process to create a limited supply of hot mix asphalt begins with asphalt millings (recycled asphalt). For the past several years the City of Muscatine has required contractors on street projects to separate the asphalt, concrete, bricks, and dirt as they remove old pavement. Each of these items are recycled in various ways by the City of Muscatine.

Reclaimed asphalt is crushed, or ground up, to create millings that are environmentally friendly (lower carbon footprint than fresh asphalt or other paving materials) with characteristics similar to fresh asphalt or gravel. They have been used as a subbase in certain parts of road projects and as a temporary road surface when needed.

Now, this recycled asphalt takes on a fourth life and one that is saving taxpayers money.

Chunks of recycled asphalt and/or millings are delivered by a front-end loader into the loading chute of the KM T2 Asphalt Recycler. The material falls into a rotating drum with seven steel agitators that breaks down the material while it is being heated by a 700,000 BTU burner pointed into the drum. The burner not only heats the material but also dries the material as it is being broken down.

Two bags of asphalt cement are added to act as a binding agent as the drum continues to rotate. Heat is once again added as the material mixes (up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit) allowing the asphalt cement to evenly encapsulate the aggregate. The mix is heated a third time before the material is offloaded into the front-end loader and transported to the KM 8000TEDD Hotbox/Reclaimer where it is kept at a temperature of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Hotbox is then transported to the work site where the area to be repaired is cleaned and dried before the reclaimed asphalt hot mix is added. The Hotbox will keep the mix at temperature for most of the work day.

The Asphalt Recycler and Hotbox/Reclaimer were in use Wednesday (Feb. 26, 2020) for repairs on a section of Park Avenue West. One City crew prepared the area for repair while a second crew manned the Asphalt Recycler to “cook” new hot mix. The first application was moved into the Hotbox which was then transported to the work site.

The Hotbox keeps the hot mix at 350 degrees Fahrenheit as it is transported and then emptied into the repair area. Larger areas, such as the one being repaired Wednesday, take a second “cooking” of hot mix and transportation to the work site. Once completed, the “new” asphalt is compressed and allowed to cool and harden before opening the section to traffic.

Recycled asphalt “cooked” into “new” hot mix
“New” hot mix transported to work site in Hotbox that keeps the asphalt pliable even in cold tempratures

Call-in-to-schedule bulky waste pickup replaces Spring Cleanup Week in Muscatine

Unsightly piles of unwanted items were part of the problem of having a limited time period for residents to declutter their residences and have the City haul away the bulky waste.

MUSCATINE, Iowa – Spring Cleanup Week is no more … at least for the 2020 calendar year. During a presentation to the Muscatine City Council on January 9, Director of the Department of Public Works Brian Stineman and Solid Waste Manager David Popp revealed a plan that could save the City money and perhaps alleviate unsightly oversized, and potentially hazardous piles of bulky waste throughout the City of Muscatine.

“There will not be any need to stockpile unwanted bulky items for that one week of the year,” Popp said. “Instead you will be able to call the Transfer Station and schedule a pickup of those bulky items on your refuse collection day.”

Spring Cleanup Week was held the third week in April for the past several years. With the consent of the Muscatine City Council that designated week has been sent to the recycle bin.

Instead the city will offer residents of Muscatine and Fruitland unlimited bulky waste curbside collection on the resident’s refuse collection day at no additional charge on a call-in to schedule basis. The City anticipates a “soft opening” for the new bulky waste pickup policy the first week of February.

Residents wanting a bulky waste pickup need to call or email the Muscatine Transfer Station to schedule the pickup. The City is in the process of establishing a dedicated phone number and email address for scheduling bulky waste pickups. Until that process is complete, residents can call the Transfer Station (563-263-9689) for additional information or to schedule a pickup.

“If you call in and get the answering machine we will call you back,” Popp said. “If you email us, we will call you. Our effort will be to schedule the appropriate time for pickup and to ensure that the items being placed out for collection are allowable.”

If residents have a large amount of bulky waste items they would like collected by the City, multiple pickups can be scheduled to keep the piles to a more manageable size for both the resident and City staff.

The Department of Public Works will collect unwanted items and take them to the Muscatine Transfer Station for disposal. Once a pickup is scheduled with the City, residents will be permitted to place the unwanted items curbside the night before their regular refuse collection day or by 5:00 a.m. on the collection day.

Businesses are not eligible for this service.

Rampant abuse of Spring Cleanup Week was one of the reasons that City staff sought a change in the process.

“We have seen bigger and bigger piles appear throughout the City that caused delays and extra expense in the collection efforts,” Stineman said. “A lot of times piles of unwanted items were set out weeks in advance and that was pretty unsightly and made worse by those who would pick through the piles and leave items strewn about.”

Another reason for the change was the cost in equipment and employee time.

“The cleanup week collection required assistance from multiple divisions and the use of temporary workers,” Stineman said. “And it took away resources that should have been used for roadway maintenance projects.”

In the past the City has used 13 full time employees, nine temporary employees, and 14 pieces of equipment from the Department of Public Works along with eight full time employees, 17 temporary employees, and eight pieces of equipment from the Solid Waste Division.

“Going to a program where we schedule pickups on resident’s regular refuse collection day allows us to limit the workload to just two employees and one piece of equipment,” Popp said. “Having residents call in to schedule pickups will make better use of our time and of residents’ time.”

Stineman and Popp estimate that up to 20 loads per day can be picked up with one truck and two staff members.

Rules established for cleanup week will be used in the year round bulky waste collection effort.

Once Muscatine and Fruitland residents schedule a pickup, bulky waste items like furniture, carpet, dismantled swing sets, and small amounts of building materials can be placed curbside for collection by the City no sooner than a day before the scheduled collection. Small items such as household decorations should be bagged.

In addition, residents will be able to set out two appliances per year (washer, dryer, stove, refrigerator, microwave, or dishwasher) and have those appliances picked up for free. Camper refrigerators and camper air conditioning units are excluded from curbside pickup. Standard refrigerators and freezers need to have the doors removed for safety.

Additional appliances can be scheduled for pick up after the payment of a $10 fee per appliance. Fees can be paid at the Transfer Station, the Finance Department at Muscatine City Hall, or at the Department of Public Works.

Piles of unwanted bulky waste should be no more than 10 feet long, four feet wide, and two feet high, or about the size of a pickup truck load.

In addition, mattresses that are set out for pickup are required to be placed in mattress bags that are available for free from the Transfer Station, at City Hall, or at the Public Works office.

“It seemed residents hoarded items all year and then set out everything for the Cleanup Week,” Stineman said. “And the piles did not conform to size.”

Popp suggested another avenue for residents who have items they no longer want.

“Many items we see in these piles could have donated to local thrift stores so that they can be refurbished and obtained by those who have a need but cannot afford new items,” Popp said. “That is beneficial in two ways as it helps those in need and reduces the amount of material that is taken to the landfill.”

If a resident calls in to schedule a pickup, however, the City will collect and dispose of the items placed curbside.

Yard waste must be in City of Muscatine yard waste bags. Brush tied in bundles no larger than 18 inches in diameter and four feet in length will also be picked up on a call-in basis.

Items that will not be accepted for curbside pickup include torn down buildings (such as garages), car bodies, large trees or stumps, concrete (can be dropped off for no cost at the Public Works Yard on Washington Street), paint and other hazardous chemicals (accepted at the Transfer Station at no cost year round), and motor oil and antifreeze (accepted at the Transfer Station for no cost year round).

The following items will not be picked up curbside but will be accepted at the Transfer Station for a fee with proof of residency: car and/or light truck tires (maximum of 4) without rims, electronic waste items (maximum 3); propane gas tanks; and, camper refrigerators and camper air conditioners.

Tires will be accepted for FREE at the Transfer Station May 11-16, 2020, while electronics will be accepted for FREE at the Transfer Station April 27-May 1, 2020.

Proof of residency is required (such as the Compost Facility sticker or driver’s license) at the Transfer Station.

The Transfer Station is open 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Visit the Solid Waste Division page on the City of Muscatine web site for more information.

For a schedule of fees, visit the Transfer Station page on the City of Muscatine web site.

Click HERE to see the January 9, 2020, presentation to the Muscatine City Council.

Reception Thursday to honor four members who will complete their terms on Muscatine City Council

Public invited to attend ceremony from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday (Dec. 19) in Council Chambers at Muscatine City Hall

MUSCATINE, Iowa – Four members of the Muscatine City Council will participate in their final Council meeting on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, after each selected not to seek re-election this past year. The four will be honored during a reception from 5:30-6:30 p.m. on December 19 in the Muscatine City Council chambers.

All are welcome to attend and honor these four gentlemen for their years of service to the community.

The reception will be followed at 7 p.m. with the swearing in of four new Council members who will begin their terms of service at 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2020. This may be the first time in the history of the modern day Muscatine City Council that four new members will be seated.

Dennis Froelich (First Ward) will be replacing Phil Fitzgerald who chose not to run after 28 years as a member of the Muscatine City Council. Peggy Gordon (Third Ward) will be replacing Tom Spread who chose not to run after serving two terms (eight years) on the Muscatine City Council. John Jindrich (Fifth Ward) will be replacing Allen Harvey who chose not to run for reelection after four years on the Council. Dewayne Hopkins (At-Large) is the final new member of the council, replacing Santos Saucedo who also chose not to run for reelection after four years on the Council.

The four retiring members spoke about their years of service as a member of the Muscatine City Council.

PHIL FITZGERALD

Phil Fitzgerald has served for 28 years as a member of the Muscatine City Council representing the First Ward. Fitzgerald retired as an industrial technology instructor in the Muscatine School District in 2010 after 35 years, and currently operates Fitzgerald Construction. Since first being elected to the Muscatine City Council in 1992, Fitzgerald has seen a lot of changes in Muscatine.

Fitzgerald was instrumental in the development and establishment of the Muscatine Geographic Information Consortium (MAGIC) and was a charter member of the organization. MAGIC is a partnership between the City of Muscatine, Muscatine County, and Muscatine Power & Water established in 1999 that provides Muscatine County citizens access to property information and maps online free of charge.

He was also instrumental in the development and establishment of the Muscatine County Joint Communication Commission (MCJCC) the Muscatine Joint Communication Center (MUSCOM), serving several times as the board chairperson. MCJCC is responsible for the overall governance and fiscal management of MUSCOM.

TOM SPREAD

Tom Spread served eight years on the Muscatine City Council representing the Third Ward. The accomplishments he is most proud of fall into one of three categories: (1) the financial condition of the city; (2) the services that the city provides; and, (3) the public works projects that have been advanced.

“I start with the financial condition of the city simply because that is the foundation that supports the provision of city services and the development of public works projects,” Spread said.

He remembers 10 years ago when the city had to dip into the emergency fund to pay its bills, and was basically living paycheck to paycheck. In the past 10 years that reserve has grown from 10 percent of General Fund expenditures to nearly 24 percent, or from 30 days cash on hand to 82 days of cash on hand.

“That means that we have the capacity to fund the unknown such as repairs to the ruptured forced sewer main on the sound end, and the endless effects of flood conditions,” Spread said. “And we have been able to accomplish these thing without increasing property tax rates.”

Spread commended city staff for their success in finding sources to fund a long list of public works projects and operations from sources other than tax revenue.

“When my family and I relocated to Muscatine in 1999, our new friends and co-workers lamented the fact that Mississippi Drive was in dire need of repair,” Spread said.

The redevelopment of Mississippi Drive is one of the public works projects is proud of.

“We benefited from the change in jurisdiction, $13 million from the State of Iowa, and a $4 million contribution from Canadian Pacific,” Spread said of the project. “To the credit of city staff, the results are attractive and functional, and a significant improvement to the quality of life in our town.”

Mississippi Drive is just one of a long list of public works projects that have been completed, are underway, or are being planned that Spread is proud of.

“All of these are consistent with the city’s ‘Complete Streets’ policy,” Spread said.

Another project that Spread says deserves a special note is the planned development of the Water and Resource Recovery Facility that will have a lasting impact on municipal operations and the environment.

“Imagine the impact of converting waste into CNG to power the city’s fleet of vehicles, and perhaps develop a new revenue stream independent of the tax base,” Spread said.

Spread said he could not emphasize enough the importance of economic development as the means to increase the city tax base.

“It is the foundation for providing essential services,” Spread said. “Future councils will continue to be challenged by increasing costs, and by the unanticipated changes in code and appropriations coming out of Des Moines and Washington, D.C. The city has not yet fully realized the impact of changes to the real estate tax code (reclassification of multi-family, etc.), and the backfill promised by the state legislature will not last forever.”

Unfortunately, he said, Muscatine missed the opportunity to develop Carver Corner and that would have been a significant step toward the revitalization of the Grandview Avenue corridor and the much needed development in the south end.

“My advice to the next Council is to listen to the voices of everyone,” Spread said. A vocal minority is often the loudest. Our roles as elected officials is to do what is best for all 10,000 households and 25,000 residents. We all benefit from prosperity.”

ALLEN HARVEY

Allen Harvey spent the past four years on the Muscatine City Council representing the Fifth Ward.

“I must say that my four years on council were undoubtedly a page turner,” Allen Harvey said. “Most certainly it was not boring. It started with a bang and ended with a bang and there was lots and lots of excitement in between.”

Harvey added that he was grateful to be a part of several community improvement projects including Mississippi Drive, Riverfront beautification, Grandview Avenue, 2nd Street Improvement Project, and the Park Avenue three-lane project.

“We also welcomed our new public library,” he said.

One of his proudest memories is the fact that the City was able to hold the city’s tax level steady.

“With the help of the City Administrator, Finance Director, and the rest of City staff we were able to continue to avoid an increase in the property tax rate just as we have done for the last 10 years,” Harvey said.

Sadly, Harvey and the Muscatine community, lost a good friend during Harvey’s time in office.

“We lost our good friend and fellow council member Bob Bynum during my four years,” Harvey said. “He was a great advocate of the community and a great asset to the council.”

Harvey’s words of wisdom to the new council?

“I welcome our four new council members who will take office on January 1, 2020,” Harvey said. “I wish them the best of luck and I am confident they will continue to support all the good things happenings in Muscatine.”

SANTOS SAUCEDO

Santos Saucedo is finishing his first term as an at-large member of the Muscatine City Council and was elected the District 1 Representative to the Muscatine County Board of Supervisors in 2017. He will continue to serve on the Board of Supervisors.

“Overall it has been a great experience,” Saucedo said. “I truly will miss it.”

A long list of accomplishments by all City departments despite unusual weather events in 2019

The Sycamore Street bioretention cell was cleaned up and replanted in 2019, creating a colorful escape for pollinators of all varieties. This was the first of two bioretention cells created by the City, the second one located in Parking Lot 7 (between Cedar and Sycamore). Both stormwater projects have goals to reduce street flooding, clean the water heading into the Mississippi River, and provide a safe habitat for visiting pollinators.

MUSCATINE, Iowa – The past year was dominated by near historic weather events that taxed the resources of all City of Muscatine departments. It would be appropriate, then, if the citizens of Muscatine offered forgiveness if the list of accomplishments for each department and division during the past year was shorter than in previous years.

However, forgiveness was not needed. Thanks to the leadership from the top echelons of City administration, the knowledge and experience of professional staff, and the tireless effort and dedication by all staff members, the City was able to meet or exceed many of the 2019 goals adopted by the Muscatine City Council in December 2018.

The list of departmental accomplishments was compiled over the past month as department heads and supervisors meet to review past goals and establish new goals for the upcoming year. The list was sent to the members of the Muscatine City Council on November 4 along with a grant and contribution summary for Fiscal Year 2018-2019.

“It is pretty amazing when you actually read the entire document and read what has occurred in the city this past year along with all the successfully awarded grants,” Jerry Ewers, Muscatine Fire Chief, said.

With one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record followed almost immediately by the start of 99 consecutive days of the Mississippi River being above flood stage, not to mention the abnormally large crop of pot holes that were revealed this spring and the massive post-flood cleanup and restoration efforts, 2019 was one for the record books. And we still have two months to go.

“A lot of credit for these accomplishments has to be given to our city administrator as well as to the department heads and their staff,” Nancy Lueck, Finance Director, said. “Gregg (City Administrator Gregg Mandsager) really fosters and encourages the collaboration between departments and the coordinated efforts needed for many of these accomplishments as well as facilitating the discussion on how to overcome any obstacles and developing financing plans for the projects.”

The hard work, long hours, and pride in Muscatine that Mandsager demonstrates is not lost on those that work for the City.

“We all take great pride in the accomplishments in each of our departments,” Lueck said. “Some of that comes from the inspiration he gives us.”

One of the highest accomplishments during the past year was increasing the General Fund balance, which continued a 10-year trend in the growth of the fund balance after expenditures. Those reserves provide the City with enough capital to withstand changes in state appropriations or large scale emergencies for at least two months’ worth of expenditures.

The City ended the 2009-10 Fiscal Year with $1.7 million in the General Fund balance or 11.4 percent of expenditures. The fund has increased to $4.8 million or 24.1 percent of expenditures at the end of Fiscal Year 2018-19. The steady growth of the fund balance over the last 10 years resulted from solid fiscal planning and a leadership dedicated to fiscal responsibility while still improving the quality of life for Muscatine residents.

The City’s Finance Department recently received the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for the 35th consecutive year and the GFOA Certificate of Achievement for Comprehensive Financial reporting for the 28th consecutive year. The awards recognize not only the dedication of the Finance Department staff to the overall success of Muscatine but also their work with the City Administrator and directors from each City department in laying out the short term and long term financial strategies for Muscatine.

Among those financial strategies are financial plans for capital projects, plans for the 2020 City Bond Issue, the economic development incentive program (TIF and Tax Abatement), CAT grant oversight, and the financial plan to eliminate the $2.5 million landfill debt that existed at the end of Fiscal Year 2009-10. The department also oversees work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on recovery from the 2019 flood event, and works with the Information Technology (IT) Department that continues to enhance internet security along with other IT projects.

Mandsager has been instrumental in the negotiations of TIF agreements that have positively affected the economic development of Muscatine. Along with key members from Finance and Community Development, Mandsager led the development of financial plans for capital projects that took advantage of available grants and private contributions to reduce the burden on taxpayers’ money and allow the City to keep the property tax rate unchanged for the past eight years, a key goal for Mandsager. The City has also not had a property tax rate increase in the past 10 years, and that is a credit to the fiscal responsibility and vision of City of Muscatine department heads and the administrator.

One of the departments hardest hit by the weather in 2019 was the Department of Public Works with seemingly endless hours of snow removal followed by seemingly endless hours of monitoring the level of the flooding Mississippi River. Still the department made significant progress in its annual battle with pot holes along with a second year of full depth patching to repair streets and prevent future pot holes, and alley resurfacing projects.

Plans for the Grandview Avenue Corridor Revitalization Project are near completion as is the Park Avenue 4 to 3 Lane Conversion project. The West Side Trail project will start construction on Nov. 11 and the roundabout at Mulberry and 2nd Street is on schedule to begin in January 2020.

The divisions within Public Works also had a solid year and are highlighted in the report.

Other highlights from the 2019 City of Muscatine Accomplishments report:

  • A little over $5 million in grants and contributions were received by the City of Muscatine during Fiscal Year 2018-2019 led by $2.5 million for the Special Revenue Funds and $1.2 million for Capital Projects.
  • The Department of Community Development worked with the developer to facilitate the first new, single-family residential subdivision in more than a decade (Arbor Commons), and supported work to address needs identified in the Housing Demand Study through TIF investment in Oak Park, Arbor Commons, and the Hershey Building.
  • The Housing Department provided 180 families with affordable rental housing, had 28 participants in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, and awarded 31 families with Certificates of Completion of Homebuyer Education Course.
  • The Water Resource and Recovery Facility began construction of the High Strength Waste Receiving Project and began three studies, one a wetlands study for two areas at the Pollinator Park, one for nutrient reduction from urban runoff, and one on the flooding issues in Iowa Field.
  • The Muscatine Fire Department continued to see an increase in run volume while also continuing annual public education classes, and increasing department training.
  • Several new programs were established by the Muscatine Police Department while continuing to promote community-policing efforts such as park and walk, bike patrol, and being visible to the public.
  • The Department of Parks and Recreation, another one of the departments hardest hit by this spring’s Mississippi River flooding event, still had a long list of achievements highlighted by another successful College Search Kickoff soccer event and the development of the Houser Street Athletic and Parking addition.
  • The Muscatine Art Center is creating a more aggressive exhibition schedule, secured several grants to provide additional funding, and served 15,654 individuals, their highest number in the last five years.
  • The Musser Public Library opened in a new home and has seen a large increase in the number of individuals visiting the facility.

2019 CITY OF MUSCATINE ACCOMPLISHMENTS

FY 18-19 GRANT AND CONTRIBUTION SUMMARY

Muscatine Firefighters, public pause to remember Fallen Firefighter Mike Kruse

Michael Kruse was remembered with the laying of a wreath at the Firefighters Memorial Saturday (Sept. 14) during a special service commemorating the 17th anniversary of his death.

Kruse was 53-years-old and a 27-year veteran of the Muscatine Fire Department when he lost his life while fighting a house fire on the night of September 14, 2002. He was the first and only Muscatine firefighter to die in the line of duty, the only Iowa fire fighter to lose their life while on duty in 2002 and the 131st in the state of Iowa since records began in 1890. A total of 147 fire fighters have fallen in the line of duty since 1890.

Muscatine Fire Chief Jerry Ewers was just named a fire lieutenant when he first met Kruse as part of his team at Station 2.

“I remember that night very well,” Ewers said.

Muscatine Fire Department’s Green Shift responded to a structure fire at 10:30 p.m. on that Saturday night (Sept. 14, 2002) finding a wooden three-story multi-family home at the intersection of Orange and East 6th streets engulfed in flames. Kruse was one of two firefighters who were working on the structure’s roof when Kruse fell through and into the structure below.

When Ewers arrived at the scene he issued an all-call to bring in other shifts and relieve Green Shift in containing the fire.

“The tragedy suffered by Green Shift was felt by all those who came to the scene,” Ewers said. “But it was best to relieve that shift and allow them to grieve. We still had a job to do but it was a very emotional night.”

Kruse’s dedication to job safety and protecting Muscatine residents is a lesson that can be taught to firefighters of today and those of the future. His sacrifice and loss of life while on active duty, the emotional toll it took on his family, co-workers, and Muscatine residents, and the hope that Muscatine will never experience a tragedy such as this ever again are all part of the message presented during each memorial service.

“Mike was one of the most safety conscious firefighter’s on the department,” Ewers said during a speech in 2012 commemorating the 10th anniversary of Kruse’s death. “Mike always looked out for other firefighters to make sure they were doing the job safely and that they had their full protective equipment on at all times.”

Ewers first met Kruse in the 1990’s as a newly appointed Fire Lieutenant assigned to Station 2. Kruse and firefighter June Anne Gaeta were his crew.

Ewers admits that as a very young, very green fire lieutenant he was book smart but lacked the fire ground command and exposure to structure fires.

“Mike was a true teacher and mentor to me,” Ewers said. “His experience in fighting real fires, his expertise with the equipment, and his knowledge of the city helped this young lieutenant grow.”

Kruse joined the department in 1975 and was one of the first members to obtain his fire science degree at MCC.

“He was a true firefighter dedicated to protecting property and saving lives,” Ewers said. “He was very detail oriented, liked everything clean and in its place, and took his job very seriously.”

Ewers spoke of the difference between commemoration and celebration during his 2012 speech. Commemorating an event, he said, is done to honor the memory of that event. Celebration is a time or rejoicing, a time to feel good about something that has happened.

“Commemorations often remind us of what we have lost,” Ewers said. “Commemorations are important, not because of the words spoken, but because of honor, courage, and sacrifice that were displayed during the time of the event itself.

“We all know in our hearts that firefighting is a dangerous profession,” Ewers said. “Mike knew this when he was hired in 1975. Not every firefighter who responds to the sound of an alarm is guaranteed a safe return to quarters. Some will be mentally scarred for life with what we see and encounter at emergency scenes, some will be seriously injured, and some will pay the ultimate price.

“So it was with Mike Kruse on September 14, 2002 while battling a house fire at 6th and Orange just a few blocks from here,” Ewers said. “We have gathered here to commemorate that tragic event that took one of our own and left behind a painful gap in our ranks. We will continue to do this as long as the Muscatine Fire Department is in existence.”

Muscatine’s Firefighters Memorial is located at the intersection of Cedar and 5th Streets.

Kruse is among the fallen firefighters to be honored with inclusion on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. In his memorial, his children wrote:

“Mike was a ‘True American Hero.’ He never wanted to be recognized for all the wonderful things he did. Mike always stood up for what he believed in. He was always honest‚ even though the other person did not want to hear what he had to say. Mike always followed the rules‚ unless someone gave him a direct order to do otherwise.

Mike always put others before himself. He always talked about his family which he was so proud of. Mike stood by them through thick and thin. He gave his children unconditional love. He taught them to respect other people for who they are. Mike explained to them to love life because life is short. He became their best friend. He loved them for who they are. He was so excited about his little grandson‚ who bore his name. He took time out of his busy life to spend lots of loving moments with him.

Mike always went the extra mile at home and at work. He kept track of every run he had ever been on. He stopped by some of the houses while he was out for his morning jog and checked on patients to make sure they were doing all right. He never passed up the opportunity to play in the yearly basketball game with the Special Olympics. Mike always enjoyed carrying the boot and receiving donations for MDA.

Mike was a veteran at the fire department for twenty-seven years. He was still able to keep up with some of the younger guys. He was able to give the younger firemen the knowledge he had learned over the years. He was very respected for that.

Mike was taken from us at a moment in time when his family and friends were so proud of who he was. He will always remain alive in our hearts as a ‘True American Hero.’”

Disinformation is prevalent on development project for Carver Corner in Muscatine

The 7.4 acres owned by the City of Muscatine known at “Carver Corner” is the subject of development proposals currently being reviewed by a committee of individuals from both the private and public sectors.

MUSCATINE, Iowa – A recent post on social media concerning the proposed redevelopment of the area known as “Carver Corner” has spurred a tremendous amount of discussion. However, the post has more disinformation than actual facts.

For the past seven years or more, staff from the City of Muscatine and various outside consultants have been working on ideas of how to revitalize “Carver Corner” along with the Mississippi Drive corridor and the Grandview Avenue corridor. And with Mississippi Drive done and Grandview on tap for 2020-21, the final piece of the puzzle is what to do with the city-owned property located at “Carver Corner”.

The advice of outside consultants, and not from city staff as indicated in the social media post, was that the traffic pattern at the “Carver Corner” intersection be left out of the Mississippi Drive and Grandview Avenue projects until a suitable developer could be found. The intersection could then be blended into the development design and serve as a catalyst for future economic growth along Business 61.

In 2018, the Community Development staff began to gather information that would form the Request for Proposals (RFP) on development of the seven-acre “Carver Corner” site. During the April 11, 2019, in-depth City Council meeting, an overview of the RFP was presented by Community Development Director Jodi Royal-Goodwin.

“It has taken the City over 20 years to acquire all the pieces of property in this area,” Royal-Goodwin told the Council. “The main goal is to secure a developer who would provide Muscatine with an appealing and economically beneficial gateway from the south end to downtown.”

The final version of the Carver Corner RFP was completed in early June and distributed to over 60 local and regional development individuals and companies. The release of the RFP was also publicized and made available on the City of Muscatine web site for anyone to download, complete, and submit should they desire.

“The City did email the RFP to a list of local and regional developers but also made the RFP available to anyone who was interested on the City web site,” Kevin Jenison, Communications Manager for the City, said. “We also have a notification system called “Notify Me” that we use whenever notices for bids or RFP’s are published by the City. Any local developer or contractor has the option of receiving these notices or visiting our web site to download the bid packages.”

At no time was anyone denied access to the RFP package or prevented from submitting a proposal.

Proposals were due in the Finance Department at Muscatine City Hall on August 14 but before that deadline, a pre-proposal meeting was held on July 30 in the Muscatine City Council chambers. Representatives from several local developers, representatives of the Peace Park initiative, and representatives from regional developers were in attendance along with a number of other interested individuals. All had copies of the RFP in their possession. Those in attendance were reminded of the deadline to submit proposals, all proposals would be considered and reviewed, and the top proposals presented to the City Council for their consideration.

The process to determine the viability of all proposals received is currently ongoing with a committee assigned to review the proposals, check references, and determine which proposals to move forward in the process. Once that is complete, the City will ask the Council’s permission to enter into a development agreement with the potential developer that will iron out details of the project.

City policy does not permit the release of any information on project bids until that project is presented to the Muscatine City Council, and then only the presented bids are made public. The “Carver Corner” project will be presented at a future in-depth council meeting with details made public before the presentation so that the public may provide input on the proposal.

The final decision on whether to accept a proposal or reject all proposals and start over is up to the members of the City Council and not up to any member of City staff.

One of the arguments pushed by the social media post was that the development would block views of the river from drivers on the Mississippi Drive-Grandview Avenue corridor. However, most views are area already blocked by a 27-foot tall levee (almost as tall as a three-story building). A preliminary design of the actual structures to be built will be part of the presentation at the City Council in-depth session.

Another argument suggested by the social media post was that the potential for a developer who is not local to let the development deteriorate without any accountability is high. The City of Muscatine holds local and non-local developers equally responsible for their properties and offers programs to assist with redevelopment or remodeling of structures currently in existence.

“As a gateway between the south end and the downtown, this property will have a high impact on the economy of Muscatine,” Gregg Mandsager, City Administrator said. “I am sure that the City Council will put a high value on the ability of any developer to maintain the property as promised in the development agreement, and will not choose a project that does not meet the standards Muscatine residents expect.”

The potential for millions of tax dollars that could be added annually to the City budget is also an incentive is ensure the viability of the developer and of the project. Those added funds could be used to repair city infrastructure, enhance neighborhoods, or be used to building owners to rehabilitate their properties to further enhance economic development.

Disinformation used in social media has the potential to hinder any project that could be an economic benefit to the City of Muscatine. Therefore, the City asks residents to allow the committee to do its work free of responses to disinformation, let the project speak for itself, and let the City Council decide whether to pursue this course or not.

Biocell comes alive with the colors of summer

Despite spending time underneath the flood waters of the Mississippi River, the Sycamore Alley Biocell is alive and well and full of color for visitors to admire and pollinators to feast on.

One of the ways to manage stormwater runoff, and add a bit of natural beauty, is the creation of bioretention cells (biocells). One has been established in the City of Muscatine and more are in the planning stages.

Biocells have become one of the most widely used green infrastructure practices for managing stormwater. A landscaped depression that captures and infiltrates stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces, biocells are most notably found in settings such as parking lots and residential areas where soils do not adequately drain.

To the resident or visitor these cells look like flower gardens. Underneath, however, is an engineered subgrade that is designed to filter pollutants out of stormwater runoff. Native plants are widely used in these “gardens” since these plants have deep roots while maintaining soil quality and soil pore spaces (the liquid and gas phases of soil).

One such cell is located just off Sycamore Street between the #1 Alley and the City of Muscatine parking lot.

Jon Koch, Director of the Water and Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF), and his staff have spearheaded the creation and maintenance of biocells within the City of Muscatine.

“The Stormwater Department took over care of this biocell last year and after Public Works repaired the intake and put in a stone walkway, we teamed with the Muscatine Pollinator Project to bring this biocell to life,” Koch said.

The Sycamore Alley biocell was constructed in 2016 but problems were encountered that allowed more weeds than native plants to grow. With the combined effort of the City of Muscatine and the Muscatine Pollinator Project, those problems were corrected and the biocell replanted.

After years of painstaking nurturing and months of being under water from the flooding Mississippi River, the Sycamore Street biocell is producing a brilliance of color as the plantings take hold, mature, and spread across the cell.

“We had to do a lot of weeding, replanting, and mulching this year,” Koch said. “Then the flood came and we were worried if the plantings would survive. But go look at it now … just beautiful.”

The use of plants native to this area of Iowa was key not only for their survival but also to benefit the many pollinators that migrate through this area.

“The orange flowers of the Butterfly Milkweed and the purple flowers of the Swamp Milkweed are important elements to the cell as they are the only kind of plant that Monarch butterflies will lay their eggs on,” Koch said.

Also included in the biocell are Heath Asters, Prairie Blazing Star, Blackeyed Susan, Bottle Gentian, and Blue Flag Iris.

It is a splash of color against the sea of concrete bleakness that permeates urban landscapes. And this is just the beginning. The Sycamore Alley biocell is serving as a proving ground for the biocell that will be built in the City Hall parking lot between Cedar and Sycamore. That project should begin within the next two months.

This is not the only project that the City has been involved with recently as a grass detention basin (Mulberry Native Habitat Basin) was established at the intersection of Mulberry Avenue and Baton Rouge Road. Again the Stormwater Department teamed up with the Muscatine Pollinator Project to add native plantings that were excellent for pollinators and loved the wet conditions.

“These basins are different than biocells and can be kind of tricky,” Koch said. “It is a larger area and we added rock to the bottom to aid in the filtration of stormwater.”

Native plants are ideal not only for greenscape projects like biocells but also great plantings for individual home owner flower beds.

“Native plants are a great way to beautify your landscape and provide a home and food for vital pollinators,” Koch said. “But you need to make sure that the native plants you purchase are ones native to this area. These plants are more beneficial to bees and butterflies than any other plants.”

The Butterfly Milkweed is a long-lived perennial with clusters of small, bright orange-red flowers. Caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly rely on milkweed leaves as their sole source of food. Butterflies and hummingbird are attracted to the plant throughout the growing season.

Swamp Milkweed is a perennial with rounded clusters of pink/red flowers. Pollinated by bees, insects, moths, and butterflies, the plant is one of the favorite host plants for the Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Several species of butterflies can be found feeding on the nectar at the same time.

Heath Aster, a native perennial aster, has clusters of small flowers typically in white but can be pink, yellow or blue. The plant attracts large numbers of native bees including honeybees and bumblebees. Butterflies, skippers, and moths are also attracted to the plant.

Prairie Blazing Star, a member of the sunflower family, is a tall, upright, clump-forming native prairie perennial with violet-lavender to rosy purple flower heads that is a magnet for butterflies, birds, and honeybees.

Probably the most commonly grown of American wildflowers, Blackeyed Susan is another native North American plant used in a variety of landscapes. This wildflower is in the Aster family with cheerful blossoms that attract a variety of butterflies, birds, and other insects.

Bottle Gentian is a native plant that is slow growing but long lived, requiring little care once established. The main pollinators are large bees, such as bumblebees, who are the only insect strong enough to force open the closed petals, crawl inside to sip nectar, and deposit pollen.

The Blue Flag Iris is a showy native plant with several violet-blue flowers that attracts a variety of insects including butterflies, skippers, bumblebees, and long-horned bees, as well as hummingbirds.

Fire education important for safety of citizens and safety of fire fighters

Abnormally high number of structure fires in April increases need for fire safety education narrative

Clinton Street House Fire

MUSCATINE, Iowa – An above normal number of residential structure fires in April has drawn the concern of Muscatine Fire Department officials who urge area residents to take the time to discuss fire safety with their family.

“We ran the numbers a little bit and the numbers are a little bit higher than last year,” Fire Marshal and Assistant Fire Chief Mike Hartman said. “I think that every single fire that we have had has been residential which drives the narrative a little bit more.”

That narrative is about fire education and what individuals and families can do to prevent fires in their places of residence and what individuals and families can do to protect loved ones in the event of a fire emergency.

Residential fires today burn quicker and hotter than residential fires 20 or more years ago mostly due to the materials used in construction and materials used in the manufacture of households goods. A complacency with the dangerousness of fire, the lethal qualities of the smoke, and the lack of awareness for the fire safety have also contributed to a society not willing to confront the issue until something bad happens.

Something bad did happen in February when three persons died in a residential fire.

COMMONALITY OF THE FIRES

Hartman said that one of his frustrations is finding any commonality of the recent fires with the causes all across the board.

“We have had some cooking fires and some careless disposal of hot coals from a fire pit,” Hartman said.

The abuse of extension cords has also been among the causes of residential fires.

“But the only real commonality is the carelessness and lack of appreciation for the seriousness of fire,” Hartman said.

Some of that carelessness comes from not understanding how different and potentially more deadly materials used today are as opposed to materials used 20 years ago. Synthetics are used in the manufacturing process today which enables the manufacturer to keep costs down and increase the variety of products available. That also benefits the consumer.

Synthetics also have a darker side, however, they burn hotter and quicker than natural materials.

“You can go from a small fire to a big fire rather quickly,” Hartman said. “A fire in a room can turn into a room full of fire in just two or three minutes leaving little time for a family to react and escape. Twenty years ago, with natural products, that escape time could be 30 minutes.”

Increased health risks with the use of synthetics and composites in today’s construction. Restoration companies are more incline to tear down houses damaged by fire than to just cleaning them up.

Restoration companies have been hired in the past to clean up after fires by rinsing down the walls and perhaps using special paints to help with the smoke smell. Today, these same companies would have to clear everything out down to the studs and then spray before repairing the damage and that costs a lot of money.

“What burns today is a lot worse health wise than what burned in a home 20 years ago,” Hartman said. “Most restoration companies are not comfortable with just washing down the walls because of the liability and long term obligations to customers to not put them in situations where they are exposed to these cancer causing risks.”

THE ESCAPE PLAN

An escape plan on what you, and your family, would do to safely leave your house or apartment in the case of a fire or other natural disaster should not be put on the back burner, so to speak. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) advises that your ability to get out of your home during a fire depends on advance warning from smoke alarms and advance planning. The NFPA provides escape planning tools to help families prepare for a fire emergency.

Families need to gather together, develop a plan, and then practice that plan.

“We talk with our children about what to do if somebody drives through the neighborhood in a weird looking van or we talk to them about school shootings, but we forget to talk with them on what to do if there is a fire in your house,” Hartman said.

Hartman recalled a conversation he had with a parent recently who said “we told our kids that if the smoke alarm goes off, come find mom and dad, let us know, and we will get out together.”

“I understand the reason behind that but these fires can turn deadly in just two to three minutes,” Hartman said. “If your kid wakes up and thinks they know where you are but doesn’t really know where you are, then they are walking around the house looking for you when they just need to get out.”

The majority of fire victims in Muscatine over the past 20 years have been the young and the old. One victim was not at either end of that spectrum but was with two young children.

“Unfortunately, we as a nation and we as a culture have very little appreciation for the deadliness of smoke and fire,” Hartman said. “When the smoke alarm goes off, you need to have a plan and you need to get out. It doesn’t matter whether you meet at a tree in the front yard, a tree in the back yard, or at a neighbor’s house … just get out and stay out.”

THE VALUE OF SMOKE DETECTORS & SPRINKLERS

Working smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors (both required by Iowa law) are important tools in the prevention of fire injuries or death.

“Having working smoke detectors is a message that we continue to hammer on,” Hartman said. “Looking at these recent fires, most had detectors but not all of them had operating detectors.”

Almost three of every five home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms (40 percent) or not working smoke alarms (17 percent) according to the NFPA.  The NFPA also notes that properly installed and maintained smoke alarms play a vital role in reducing fire deaths and injuries, and save lives. Smoke Alarm Safety Tips

Smoke from a fire in your home spreads fast and smoke alarms give you time to get out and stay out.

Hartman is also an advocate for the installation of sprinkler systems in homes.

“Response time for fire departments are not as good as what we would like for them to be but they are not horrendous,” Hartman said. “Having a sprinkler system in residential homes would help.”

A point that Hartman continues to emphasize is that a fire in a room can become a room full of fire in as little as three minutes.

“Think about how long it would take for you to get in your car and drive to the nearest fire station,” Hartman said.

Once a fire is identified and 911 is called, fire fighters on duty need to put on their gear and then drive to the location of the fire. Once at the location, fire crews have to put the fire truck into pump, drag out the hose(s), find the fire, turn on the water to get through the fire hose(s), and then attack the fire.

“It takes time,” Hartman said. “A residential sprinkler system installed in the home would have activated at 130 degrees and potentially save lives and the home.”

One of the criticism of a sprinkler system is the amount of water damage to the home.

“Yes there is water damage from a sprinkler system,” Hartman said. “But it is a lot less damage from the amount of water coming out of a sprinkler system than the amount of water coming out of a fire hose.”

SAFETY OF CITIZENS, SAFETY OF FIRE FIGHTERS

The more synthetics we have, the more we utilize synthetics, chemicals, and technology to make our lives more enjoyable, the more we compound the issue of a fire turning deadly.

“That is where I get really concerned about the safety of our citizens and the safety of our fire fighters,” Hartman said.

When a family says goodbye to a husband or wife, father or mother, brother or sister, there is no guarantee that the family will see them tomorrow.

“We train for all situations,” Jerry Ewers, Muscatine Fire Chief, said. “But just like all first responders who put their lives on the line to protect and serve their communities, there are no guarantees.”

The philosophy of the Muscatine Fire Department is to: accept great personal risk to save another person’s life; accept moderate personal risk to save another person’s property; and, accept no personal risk to save what is already lost.

The only fire fighter fatality that Muscatine has experienced came during a residential fire but there have been plenty of injuries and close calls.

“Fire safety is not just about keeping your family safe, it is also about keeping those who respond to the fires safe,” Hartman said. “A lot of people express their appreciation to the fire fighters. The best way to show appreciation is to learn, discuss, and practice fire safety every day.”

OLDER VS NEWER CONSTRUCTION

Recently, fire fighters were dispatched to a garage fire where the roof collapsed just seconds before fire fighters entered the structure to attack the fire.

“The reason the roof collapsed, and it was a big chunk of the roof, was that it was newer construction,” Hartman said.

Hartman said that fire fighters will assess the age of the home when they first arrive at the scene of a structure fire. Those built in the last 20-30 years have elements of “light weight construction” or the use of engineered wood instead of solid wood.

“Light weight construction helps to make the house open and beautiful but it is horrible for firefighting,” Hartman said.

The rule of thumb, according to Hartman, is that with a fire in the attic of a light weight construction home, the roof will collapse in six minutes.

“The call process, the turn out time, the drive time, set up time, all could put us right at that mark when we would put someone on that roof to vent it,” Hartman said.

Older homes have their problems too including not having fire stops which would prevent a fire on the first floor from dropping down into the basement or going up into the second floor or attic area. Remodeling also poses problems if that work is not done by professionals and not done to code.

“The older houses are better in some ways but in some ways they are not,” Hartman said. “Residentials are kind of a unique animal.”

Just like planning how to escape a fire, it takes planning and training to attack the different kinds of residential fires.

“We even had one recent residential fire that had extension cords running through the entire place and that is actually what caused the fire,” Hartman said. “They had a small extension cord with a surge protector plugged into another surge bar that was plugged into a heater.”

Extension cords are not meant for that kind of abuse and the heat generated from their overuse can cause fires.

“The more you plug into them, the more dangerous it is,” Hartman said.

MESSAGE OF THE DAY

In simple terms, fires are not like what you see in the movies. Fire is hot, fire is fast, fire is dark, and fire is deadly. In fact, smoke and toxic gases kill more people than flames do.

The most important message of the day, according to Hartman, is awareness. Parents need to reinforce the lessons of fire prevention and using an escape plan.

“We try to connect with every school child in the third through fifth grade with fire education,” Hartman said. “If they take that home and discuss it with their parents, then we have success.”

There have been many instances of fire education success including one recent event where an individual on a riding lawn mower tipped over and caught fire.

“He jumped out and started running around with his clothes on fire,” Hartman said. “Some children across the street saw this and yelled at him to stop, drop, and roll. He did and that put the fire out.”

Stop, drop, and roll is something the children learned from the program offered by the Fire Department in the schools.

While there is frustration that the message is not getting to everyone, there is growing evidence that the message is being received and being spread throughout the community.

If you would like more information, or a home visit, please contact the Muscatine Fire Department directly.

“We would be more than willing to help you and to make sure your house or home is safer,’ Ewers said.