COUNCIL BLUFFS — Council Bluffs Fire Chief Alan Byers has announced he will be hanging up his uniform in August 2013 after an impressive run at the helm of the department.
Byers said that he discussed a plan to retire with his wife, Sandy, three years ago and that he will stick to it.
“It has been a great ride for me and my family. I love what I am doing and this department,” he said.
“The mayor and the City Council have allowed us to become a department that is good for the community, and something everybody can be proud of.”
While he won't say goodbye until next summer, there is still plenty to do before then, he said.
Over the past year, the Fire Department has seen an 8 percent increase in structure fires, from 66 fires between Oct. 1, 2010, and Oct. 1, 2011, to 71 from Oct. 1, 2011, to Oct. 1, 2012. Byers said there is nothing alarming about the increase; it could fluctuate back down next year.
While structure fires were up, vehicle fires were down by one, from 53 to 52.
One place where the department has seen a real change is emergency medical runs. Total emergency crew runs are up 9 percent from 6,805 incidents to 7,422, with emergency medical runs up 10 percent, 5,208 to 5,713.
Part of that could be an aging population, but it could also be how people view 911 services.
“It is part of the health care problem nationwide: 911 is the easy call,” he said. “People now call for things they didn't used to call for. Something has got to change.”
Emergency medical calls take time and personnel. If calls continue to rise, a new business model must be investigated.
“It costs taxpayers $800,000 to put a new ambulance in service,” he said. “The question becomes how do we keep people out of the emergency room who don't need to be there, and preventing us from not being available for people really in need.”
Byers said a number of solutions are being investigated, in partnership with the hospitals, the Iowa Department of Human Services and other involved entities.
The other big-picture item continues to be the lack of working smoke detectors in homes. Over the past two months there have been two fire deaths, and five of the last six fire deaths in the city have been in rental homes without working smoke detectors.
“We have spent $60,000 on smoke detectors and the issue is not going away; it hasn't changed, and that is disappointing,” Byers said. “As a city we have to develop something different to prevent these deaths. Nobody should die in their home from smoke or a fire in this day and age.”