OTTUMWA — Deputy Fire Chief Cory Benge has spent years as an Ottumwa fire investigator. But these days, if he suspects he's talking to an arsonist, he may not call the police. Because now, he is the police.
Benge just finished 14 intense weeks going through the Iowa Police Academy. He is now an Iowa certified law enforcement officer, with arrest powers and the ability to carry a firearm.
"It was tough to be away from my family," said Benge on Friday.
He's been spending time with his wife and two little ones since returning last week. But during the day, he's been at the Ottumwa Fire Department central station catching up on paperwork and requests for permits.
Having arrest powers, the City decided, and a more in-depth ability to conduct interviews with suspects would be a benefit in Benge's job.
"The City was all for it," said Ottumwa Fire Department Chief Tony Miller. "I was 100 percent behind it. We've been known to have an arson or two in Ottumwa. He can go, investigate and have police powers now."
Benge went through the same training as every other police cadet. While a lot of what he learned will be useful in understanding law enforcement as well as criminal behavior, some classes didn't seem terribly important for Ottumwa's chief fire investigator.
He was shot with a Taser as part of Taser training, sprayed in the face with pepper spray for pepper-spray training, studied how to direct traffic, run OWI tests on drivers and how to jump in a police car to chase bad guys. But there is no separate academy for fire marshals. With only perhaps one a year going through law enforcement training, there isn't enough demand. In the OFD's 156-year history, they've never sent anyone.