Panel: New firefighters must be EMTs

New Fort Dodge firefighters will have to be emergency medical technicians, according to a requirement approved by the city’s Civil Service Commission Tuesday.

Commission members voted unanimously to mandate that new firefighters be certified as emergency medical technicians at the time they are hired. That measure now goes to the City Council for final approval.

Fire Chief Kent Hulett and Jim Vollmer, the city’s human resources director, told the commission that surging demand for emergency medical care prompted the request to require the EMT certification.

”If you truly want to be a firefighter, this is a part of what firefighting has become,” Vollmer said after the commission meeting.

He said the need for an EMT certification is similar to needing a college degree to enter certain professions.

”I think firefighting has gone from simply fighting a building fire to providing a whole range of diverse services and that requires a broader level of education to meet those demands,” he said.

Hulett said emergency medical care accounts for about 80 percent of the Fire Department workload.

All of the current firefighters are EMTs or paramedics.

The Fire Department works in conjunction with Trinity Regional Medical Center to provide emergency care. A fire truck responds to all medical emergency calls. Additionally, the Fire Department uses its ambulances for both emergency calls and transfers between health care facilities when the hospital doesn’t have an ambulance available.

An emergency medical technician provides basic cardiac, medical and trauma care.

After they are hired, firefighters are required to become paramedics within two years. Paramedics provide advanced cardiac, medical and trauma care; interpret heart rhythms; and administer drugs.

In 2012, city officials considered requiring EMT certification for new firefighters, but did not do so.

Hulett said the EMT requirement is not unique to Fort Dodge. Some cities, he said, require firefighter candidates to be certified as paramedics. Requiring the EMT certification, he said, is a ”responsible compromise.”

He added that he will attempt to recruit new firefighter candidates who are certified paramedics.

There are three vacancies on the 31-member Fire Department. Hulett said the process of filling those vacancies is underway.

The chief said he may ask the City Council to hire two or three new firefighters during its April 14 meeting.

He initially planned to ask the Civil Service Commission to scrap the current list of eligible firefighter candidates. However, Vollmer said if the list is abolished, the Fire Department would not be able to hire the three candidates that are currently being considered.

The commission will consider abolishing the list and scheduling a new civil service test for firefighters during a future meeting.

The commission did schedule a June 7 exam for police officer candidates. The city will begin advertising the exam late this month. Applications are due May 23.

Police Chief Tim Carmody said that because of an upcoming retirement, a patrol officer will be promoted to sergeant this month. That will create a patrol officer vacancy.

The most recent certified list of police officer candidates expired last month.

The testing timeline approved Tuesday is crafted so that a new officer will be hired in time to start at the Iowa Law Enforcement Training Academy in Johnston in August.

The Police Department has 40 officers.