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Iowa fire chief provides innovative stress-relief measures, boosts resources

The Waterloo fire chief also hopes to lessen stress on his crew by buying a new front-line ambulance for Station 3

By Maria Kuiper

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa

WATERLOO, Iowa — Fire Chief Bill Beck is implementing new efforts to reduce the stress on his staff so they can ultimately provide better services in the community.

Beck brings in Franklin, his 7-month-old Great Dane mix, to the Waterloo Fire Rescue headquarters as a form of stress relief to the firefighters and other staff who work in a demanding and high-stakes environment.

Beck also hopes to lessen stress on his crew, as well as hospital workers and the citizens requiring emergency services, by buying a new front-line ambulance for Station 3, off of Donald Street , for non-emergency transports. The city of Waterloo Finance Committee approved the purchase of the ambulance for $369,000 in August.

The decision to designate the ambulance for this station is due to the proximity of Allen Hospital and to equip the department with more resources once the new 180-unit housing complex is complete at North Crossing, which could lead to an influx of people in the area.

Those requiring non-emergency transports are patients who need to go to somewhere like the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics or Mayo Clinic but aren’t in a life threatening condition. These patients potentially need constant monitoring by paramedics and shouldn’t travel by private vehicle to the hospital.

The idea of adding another ambulance for these transports came as a result of seeing a need from hospitals but also as another revenue source for the department.

Beck said the department is looking to do 60 non-emergency transports per month starting Jan. 1 . He estimated that the gross annual income from these transports would be $1.7 million. Emergency calls from 911 will still take precedence.

With that amount of money, Beck said he’d be able to staff four new firefighters and retain four firefighters who were employed through funding from a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grant. The four year grant expires at the end of this year.

The newly hired firefighters — who were sworn in on Thursday — will bring the number of firefighters up to 115 and allow for the staffing of the new ambulance.

He also hopes the revenue will be able to replace one of the four ambulances every year, and not require the department to ask for bond money from the city. A “bare bones” ambulance costs about $290,000 and an additional $100,000 for the needed equipment inside the truck.

The annual cost of paying the eight firefighters, along with a new ambulance, leaves the fire department with about $200,000, which could go into the city’s general fund, Beck said. He also said some money could go toward updating each ambulance’s cardiac monitors, which cost about $50,000 each.

He believes the addition of firefighters and providing more non-emergency transports will take some load off of health care workers. Beck said it “wasn’t uncalled for” for Allen Hospital to have to call for an ambulance from Marshalltown or Fort Dodge to do a transport.

“If we can have an ambulance across the street, you know, that’s going to decrease the timeline of that patient (waiting) and getting the additional care that they need,” he said. “Not to mention freeing up resources at Allen Hospital to better serve the citizens and community.”

He said ambulance calls have increased every year during his two decades with the department and that an additional truck would reduce the workload for the city’s paramedics.

The workload for firefighters will always be heavy, no matter the amount of staffing or equipment. That’s where Franklin comes in, with Beck hoping he will provide some stress relief.

Dogs have famously been tied to fire departments. When fire departments used horses, dogs would protect the horses who could get spooked. With the evolution of technology, dogs have been used as arson investigators.

Waterloo Fire Rescue previously had three arson dogs — a yellow lab named Gidget, a black lab named Ebony and a golden retriever named Radar. The last dog at the department was Radar but he left when former fire marshal Chris Ferguson accepted a job elsewhere. Arson dogs are usually paired with their trainer for life.

Beck said he’s been pushing for bringing dogs back into the department.

“Even when I was battalion chief and before, when I was a lieutenant, I asked how come we can’t have a dog?” he said. “So, being that I’ve got to be the chief, I decided to try and make some of that happen.”

Franklin isn’t a trained arson or therapy dog, he is simply Beck’s dog. He and his wife Angie adopted Franklin in June at 3 months old from the Cedar Bend Humane Society . Franklin weighed eight pounds at the time of his adoption. The average weight for that age is 35 pounds. He’s still working on gaining weight but is already at a hefty 75 pounds.

Beck brings Franklin in weekly and joked that many of the firefighters and staff always ask “is Franklin coming in today?”

“It’s more of a movement of just a bit of stress relief for a stressful job,” he said. “I always try to use the analogy that it’s hard to be angry and pet a dog at the same time.”

Franklin’s been visiting the department for just a few months but Beck said he’s “100%" seeing a difference.

“When Franklin’s here he’s awesome (and, when) playing with the guys, you just hear that louder voice, that friendlier tone,” he continued. “You can tell the stress breaks are great.”


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