The Janesville City Council unanimously agreed with its fire department during a meeting on Tuesday to end a mutual aid agreement with the Cedar Falls Public Safety Department due to a failure to agree to a Memorandum of Understanding between the departments.
The main sticking point was whether the CFPSD would guarantee certain equipment and personnel be provided in an emergency situation where both cities’ fire crews would be on hand.
Janesville Fire Rescue held a meeting on Monday. Among the reasons for the decisions were the perceived “lack of experience” of the Cedar Falls PSOs (public safety officers).
“It is the department’s belief that problem was created when the career firefighters positions were eliminated” during a special meeting on Feb. 20, which was affirmed when the Cedar Falls City Council overrode a Mayor Rob Green veto on March 2.
Efforts to draw up a Memorandum of Understanding between the JFR and the CFPSD have not been successful. The purpose of the MOU was to define individual department commitments to mutual aid responses. One request was for the CFPSD to commit to providing an engine and four men in Personal Protective gear and SCBAs. CFPSD officials said they would “ideally” provide the manpower requested. Another stated it would be provided “based on the resource availability.”
“It is in the opinion of JFR that those answers show Public Safety Director Jeff Olson’s statement that Cedar Falls has no problem with manpower staffing is not correct,” the statement said.
The Janesville Fire Rescue members voted to discontinue supplying mutual aid to the Cedar Falls Public Safety Department.
Chief Tim West presented that decision of the JFR to the Janesville Mayor David Beenblossom and the City Council on Tuesday. In addition to the two items called out by the JFR additional concerns were expressed.
1) Liability Issue: While assisting CFPSD at a fire scene and things were conducted as they have been in the past, a fear of a negligent liability would exist. If JFR was on scene they could be guilty by association. The city’s insurance carrier could choose not to cover and possibly cancel the policy, or at a minimum require higher rates .
2) The department also has a responsibility to our taxpayers. The mutual aid agreement is established to provide additional support to other departments should the need arise. The concept is we help each other. The past few years, JFR has only requested Cedar Falls twice. However, the department has been called to assist 15 times.
Janesville firefighters that the excessive calls for service are due to lack of manpower and the attempt of the City of Cedar Falls administration to “cut costs” of call back or overtime by enlisting the aid of area volunteer departments. The question was presented as to why the Janesville city and rural community taxpayers should pay for the manpower and equipment to permit those tactics?
3) JFR also has a responsibility to its volunteers as well. Quite often, the volunteers leave work or miss work to perform their emergency duties. It is abuse of their time away from their jobs and families to be called out of our district as much as they have been in the recent past.
The Janesville City Council, voted unanimously to support the Janesville Fire Rescue with the decision to discontinue mutual aid responses with the Cedar Falls Public Safety Department.
Beenblossom, in a separate release, said that the decision to leave the mutual aid agreement came from how the firefighters have dealt with the PSOs while serving the City of Janesville and nearby Union Township.
“We hope you can understand that this decision comes from several years of discussions and multiple incidents which have placed not only our volunteer Janesville Fire Rescue members in danger, but also members of the general public,” Beenblossom said. “This decision weighs heavily on the hearts of our members as most of us have friends or family who will be directly impacted by this. Members of Janesville Fire Rescue pride themselves on our commitment to our citizens through continuous training, community outreach, and school fire safety programs.”