Twelve new firefighters have joined the Council Bluffs Fire Department.
On Friday, the department held a graduation ceremony for the new recruits, who recently completed an eight-week training academy.
Fire Chief Justin James said 12 “is a big class,” though not the biggest in the department’s history. The hires will bring the department to its authorized strength of 107 members.
“It’s definitely going to help this summer to have extra personnel,” James said.
The training academy covers all aspects of fire department work, James said.
“They’ve read thousands of pages of textbook. We start from scratch with them. Tying knots, loading hoses, different types of water systems, sprinkler systems,” he said. “We give them the whole gamut. And that continues on during their first year of employment.”
Of the 12 new recruits, at least nine will also have paramedic training, James said. The department usually gets around 200 to 250 applications.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic affecting firefighters and retirements, the department was shorthanded for much of the last year-plus.
“That had a big impact and compounded the problem. We were short going into the year. It got worse and worse and worse as the year went on,” James said. “When we get short like that, the system almost eats itself. We’re short, there’s a lot of overtime, they get worn down. Everyone stepped up and did their part, but it wears on you.”
James said the department didn’t track who did or did not get vaccinated against COVID-19, but he guessed around 90%.
“We were the first group to go through. They’re all health care providers, they understand the medical field,” James said. “They’re answering calls to COVID patients daily. It was definitely a gamechanger from an EMS standpoint.”