Bettendorf fire and rescue must plan for the future rather than rely on past data, a city alderman says.
Fifth Ward Alderman Scott Webster's comments came during a review of response times after Matthew Brown, 27, died of an asthma attack in early August. His parents have been critical of the first responders because the closest station to his home, Surrey Heights, was not staffed the night Brown fell ill; it took another station took nearly 11 minutes to respond.
Bettendorf Fire Department and the Scott County Medic EMS discussed staffing and response times during Tuesday's City Council meeting, and because of the city's growth, some aldermen continue to have concerns about both.
"Davenport hasn't moved much in the past 15 years. Bettendorf has, so your predictability is probably less," Webster said during the Medic EMS presentation by Director Linda Frederiksen. "You'll have no data to even tell you that. It takes a while to build data."
Frederiksen said the department uses predictive analysis of call locations to geographically position staff and respond to calls.
During his presentation, Fire Chief Steve Knorrek defended the work of the combination fire department, saying both career and volunteer firefighters take pride in the work they do and work to save lives in any situation.
Knorrek said the volunteer program began in 1999 and has improved response to the Fifth Ward, which is served by Surrey Heights Station at Middle and Crow Creek Roads. During overnight hours, it is usually staffed by resident volunteers.
“This program does facilitate better response, quicker response to the Fifth Ward than we previously had, but it does present some challenges, especially with the growth of the area,” Knorrek said.
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Last year, Knorrek said it would take 12 people to fully staff Surrey Heights, City Administrator Decker Ploehn said.
"There's a request for personnel, an analysis that we do in the budget, and the recommendation," Ploehn said.
That discussion will come as the council considers the city budget and whether residents would be able and willing to pay taxes to support a larger fire department.
The night of the Brown call, Knorrek said Surrey Heights was not staffed because a volunteer had recently taken a career position, and the station was out of service. Instead, Station 1, on State Street, responded. The 11-minute response time included the dispatcher receiving the call, collecting information on the caller's whereabouts and a callback number, and the drive time, which took a little less than eight minutes.
There is frequent turnover with volunteer and career firefighters, Knorrek said. Volunteers last an average of 1.3 years, while career firefighters stay an average of 15.3 years. Since the volunteer program started, there have been times when there are fewer than six volunteers and no backlist of interested volunteers. When that happens, another volunteer covers the shift, or the other stations cover the calls. But that sometimes happens with career firefighters too, he said.
Meanwhile, Ploehn said there's no question the city's northeast end is growing.
"A year and a half ago," Ploehn said, "we didn't have anything out at Forest Grove and Middle Road. Now we have damn near a city out there."