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      Ft. Madison Fire Department strapped for time and manpower

      The Ft. Madison fire department continues to stretch its resources. Back in January, budget cuts forced the department to downsize to a three man minimum shift. That means fewer firefighters on staff, which also means, fewer crews on hand to fight fires. It was because of that shift change that the fire department decided to *not* respond to medical calls. But after a city council meeting earlier this week, that will change. Now, fire crews have to respond no matter how many men are on a shift.

      "To not respond when there's an emergency...we'd want someone to go help them, we're going to have to be as willing as possible on either end," said Ft. Madison Mayor Steve Ireland.

      Even with the current skeleton crew per shift, there's no room for overtime in the budget. In the past, the city's spent anywhere from $80 to $90,000 for overtime. Council members didn't want overtime to be a problem again.

      " We just felt it would be wise to keep minimum staffing at three," said Ireland.

      I asked what would happen if crews are responding to a medical call, and then there's a fire. Fire Chief Joey Herren told me, crews will have to stay on scene of the first call until help arrives.

      "We will take care of the medical call, until we can release the patient to an equal or higher trained person, and then proceed to the fire call." Q: Don't you think that will put residents at risk, if there's a fire and you can't get to it right away? "It will delay it, property damages will go up," Herren went on to say.

      Mayor Ireland says it is rare that multiple catastrophe's would happen at once. But if there was such a case, the city could also rely on mutual aid for backup. Mayor Ireland told me the city has discussed all the safety concerns. The city plans to meet with state fire officials and a licensing physician to work out plans to continue to keep its residents safe.

      Chief Herren says the department will get some relief soon. They'll hire a new firefighter at the beginning of the year. The city's also looking at the idea of training more police officers in CPR. That way they can relieve firefighters on medical calls.