The Ottumwa Courier

Local News

February 23, 2013

Fire department shoulders busiest year ever

OTTUMWA — Ottumwa firefighters were on the move last year, responding to the most calls ever, tackling three Hazmat situations and arson investigations.

The Ottumwa Fire Department experienced its busiest year ever in 2012 with a 17 percent increase in call volume. They responded to 2,507 calls in 2011, which jumped to 2,999 calls in 2012, an average of 8.2 calls per day.

“It was a productive year for the fire department,” said Fire Chief Tony Miller. “Calls increased 17 percent, which is both good and bad. But our guys were up to the challenge with all the training and off-duty stuff they do. We’re looking forward to bigger and better things this year.”

One new initiative for the OFD is partnering with the American Red Cross to put a smoke detector in every home in Ottumwa. Just last week, the department received a donation of nearly $6,000 worth of smoke detectors from the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

The department operates with 32 staff: Miller, Deputy Fire Chief Cory Benge and three 10-person crews.

“We could always use more, but the reality is we’re probably not going to get more,” Miller said.

The department handled more structure fires in 2012 than in 2011 as well as an onslaught of medical calls and calls to car accidents.

In 2011, the OFD handled 1,838 medical and motor vehicle crash calls; last year, they saw 2,133.

Capt. Pat Short said he wasn’t sure the exact reason for the increase in calls.

The Southeast Iowa Response Group (SIRG), which is operated by the OFD and responds to hazardous materials situations (Hazmat) in 11 counties, responded to three incidents last year: a paint spill in a sewer system, which then ended up in a creek in Jefferson County, two trucks colliding in Batavia and a fuel tank rollover in Ottumwa.

“The two calls in Jefferson County were within a week of each other,” Miller said. “We respond when we get dispatched out by the fire chief of that jurisdiction.”

Benge, who also serves as the department’s fire marshal, investigated six fires last year, three of them leading to arrests of one adult and four juveniles.

Derrick Shoop, 41, of Maquoketa, was charged with second-degree arson for setting an abandoned house on fire on Madison Avenue on Jan. 1, 2012.

Two juveniles were charged after they lit envelopes on fire out of an ATM at River Community Credit Union.

Two other juveniles were charged after they lit the playground equipment on fire at James Elementary School in June, causing a total of $15,000 in damage.

“Our deputy chief is very proactive about getting to the cause of what happened, why it happened and who caused it,” Miller said. “He investigates it to the fullest extent, and if there’s enough evidence to prosecute, we do. He goes right after it to make sure people who made the fires have charges brought against them.”

Soon, Benge will be sent to the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy in order to gain the ability to arrest people. Right now, Benge can only investigate fire-related crimes while working alongside the Ottumwa Police Department, who can then make an arrest.

The department also purchased $21,000 of rescue equipment for high-angle, confined space and trench rescue with donations from Cargill Meat Solutions, Indian Hills Rural Emergency Services Training Center and SIRG.

In May, the firefighters will take a three-day class with a professional instructor to teach them how to use the equipment in a confined-space situation.

“It’s been many, many years since we’ve had a confined space class,” Miller said. “In confined space, you have to go by protocols, what the law says, do certain things at the right time and document everything. If there’s a situation where someone gets hurt, injured or killed, they’ll evaluate exactly what happened, why it happened and what we could have done to prevent it.”

For example, if there was ever a problem with the city’s sewer department, Miller said the OFD would be called in to handle a confined-space crisis.

“Sometimes it’s pretty dangerous because there’s no oxygen in there, which is how people can die,” he said.

Unfortunately, the OFD responded to one civilian fire death in 2012, though there were no firefighter injuries.

The accidental death was an unusual situation, Miller said. The 40-year-old Ottumwa man was killed outside his home on Osceola Street in March.

“He was putting gas out of a can on a campfire and the gas can exploded and he lit on fire,” Benge said.

Text Only
Local News
  • Pedersen: Spec. Ed. students should count ELDON — If you're going to publish graduation rates, stop excluding some children who are doing well. "In some ways, I think it's a little upsetting to the parents of a child who has a physical handicap or is otherwise [in special education], that th

    April 23, 2014

  • 0424 OTT Pennsylvania construction B&W photo -M -T Penn Ave. construction begins Thursday OTTUMWA — Motorists are advised that Pennsylvania Avenue will be closing for Stage 1 of the Pennsylvania Avenue Reconstruction and Widening Project on Thursday. Pennsylvania Avenue will be closed from just downhill from the intersection with Jefferso

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos

  • 0424 OTT Lottery addiction graphic -T -L -M Hoping for riche$ — Part 3

    OTTUMWA — At first, George bought a lottery ticket once or twice a week. Nothing big. Spent $1 or $2 at a time. As the big jackpots rolled around, he’d purchase a few more tickets. No big deal, he thought. Soon, playing the lottery became his obsessi

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

  • Interpreter bill approved in kidnapping case OTTUMWA — A filing in an Ottumwa case illustrates one of the basic tenets of the American legal system and its costs. Adem Anota is charged with one count of kidnapping. The charge is a Class A felony, among the most serious and one of only a few cri

    April 23, 2014

  • Van Buren OKs teacher pay hike KEOSAUQUA — The Van Buren Community School Board ratified a master contract with its certified staff members recently. Superintendent Dr. Pam Ewell, the Van Buren Education Association and the district reached a settlement which calls for increasing

    April 23, 2014

  • 'Ride With the Clowns' bike event full of fun OTTUMWA — This bike ride is a joke. No, seriously. The 10th annual "Ride With the Clowns" spring tune-up is set for Saturday, May 3, and this fun ride is sponsored by the Ottumwa Shrine Club Clown Unit. "It draws a regular crowd," said Mark Merringer

    April 23, 2014

  • Youth playing with guns panic Fairfield residents FAIRFIELD — The Fairfield Police Department received two calls Tuesday from concerned citizens reporting kids with guns in the vicinity of both elementary schools. In both incidents, the guns were actually pellet guns but looked real. According to a

    April 23, 2014

  • The most fun you ever had

    OTTUMWA — Not every child's idea will be possible — but every idea was recorded. "Kaboom" project manager Brenna Hull of the nonprofit group's San Francisco office was in Ottumwa Tuesday. She asked students at the Ottumwa school district what they'd like to see in a playground.

    April 22, 2014

  • 0423 OTT Recycle center color photo 2 -T -M Where every day is Earth Day

    OTTUMWA — Putting cans in the correct bin, saving electricity and adjusting the thermostat are not new concepts to the Ottumwa/Wapello Recycling Center staff. "We try to practice what we preach," said Janice Bain,

    April 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • 0423 OTT lottery retailers graph -T -M Hoping for riche$ — Part 2

    OTTUMWA — We’ve all heard countless stories of lottery winners and losers. The winners, some of whom hold down multiple jobs, have modest dreams for now. One wants to buy a new home or car, another wants to pay of their debts or give to charity and e

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo 2 Stories

Photo reprints