By Phil Reed
March 11, 2021
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) – When the pandemic was surging in November, staffing became a problem across many industries in Iowa. TV-9 now knows that even the Cedar Rapids Fire Department struggled to fill shifts, and some fire stations closed temporarily. The fire department did not share the information with the public. Fire Chief Gregory Smith said it was part of an operational plan, and they don’t normally share those with the public.
From November to March, they used a “Modified Staffing Plan.” The plan would happen when there weren’t enough firefighters to work a shift. So rather than bring in a firefighter from another shift, they’d close the fire station. The fire chief says the goal was to limit cross shift contamination. The fire department put the plan in place back in March, but they didn’t use it until November. Smith says they studied response times to make sure they could respond to fires throughout the city while down a station.
“Average response time ran about the same overall,” said Smith. “We have great mutual aid agreements with our neighboring communities. Hiawatha and Marion and we routinely will help them or they will help us on certain responses. So you take that entire system combined along with the fact we have 9 stations placed throughout the community.”
18 times a fire station had to close for 24 hours because there were not enough staff. “We 20-25 range of people who contracted Covid at some point,” said Smith. “But we were fortunate that we never had more than 3 or 4 at a time that did have covid.” These changes show how the pandemic impacted first responders. Chief Smith said he made these adjustments to keep his staff and the public safe at the same time. “Our priorities in the fire service, obviously life safety is number one,” said Smith.
They stopped doing the plan for several reasons. COVID-19 cases are dropping, they are hiring new firefighters in a couple of months, and 80 percent of the staff is now vaccinated.