A bill that would ban combining police and fire departments has passed in the Iowa House and will move on to the Senate. According to The Courier, House File 683 aims to establish emergency response districts for fire protection within cities, townships and counties, and mandates that police and fire departments stay separate.
The bill states, “… A city in which an institution of higher education governed by the state board of regents is located shall establish, house, equip, staff, uniform and maintain a full-time, professional fire department that is separate from the city’s police department.”
The bill seems specifically targeted to Cedar Falls, where the University of Northern Iowa is located. It is the first city within the state to have a public safety department with cross-trained police and firefighter personnel.
Neither Iowa City nor Ames (cities with regents universities) has combined departments. The idea to combine departments came in 2015, per request from police unions and was accepted by the city council. By 2016, all new hires by police and fire departments were cross-trained as “police safety officers,” or PSOs.
Public Safety Director Jeff Olson told The Courier about the positive response to the combined department, saying, “When people see it, more and more they support it.”
Regarding the new bill, legislators were split. Rep. Bob Kressig, who supported the bill and noted that the state fire marshall also supported it, said that the Cedar Falls PSO program has “created significant divisions in the community.”
Cedar Falls City Councilman Dave Sires, an opponent of the city’s combined department and in the minority on the council, was happy to see the bill go forward and would like to disband the city’s combined force.
While Mayor Rob Green of Cedar Falls declined to comment on the bill, the Iowa Legislature’s Fiscal Services Division found that transitioning back to separate police and fire departments could cost city taxpayers an estimated $2 million per year.
Green assured that regardless of the outcome of the bill, the city’s public safety will remain intact. “The city of Cedar Falls and its public safety personnel will continue to safeguard our community no matter how (the) organization chart looks,” Green told The Courier.