CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (KWWL) – For those in the Cedar Valley, the idea of cross training police officers as firefighters often sparks debate.
“I got to tell you, you guys are heroes,” said Ken Lockard, a local businessman who offered a positive response to the program, something that seems rare in public settings. Lockard was a victim of a house fire in November.
The debate of public safety in the city is a story that KWWL has followed for several months as the City of Cedar Falls holds tight to its Public Safety Officer Program despite regular opposition from the local union.
In 2018, the city saw a number of resignations from career firefighters as the city increased its public safety officers, those first responders trained in both police and fire operations.
“We are putting our own personnel at risk with this program,” said Sharon Regnold, a former Cedar Falls firefighter who's been a consistent opponent to the program.
Now as 2019 comes to a close, some of the big changes were within city government. However, the year started with a high profile resignation, that of former firefighter and Iowa Senator Jeff Danielson.
“I believe in public service. I believe in the work firefighters do,” said Danielson in a February interview.
Cedar Falls Public Safety Director Jeff Olson responded, saying they wished more career firefighters would be collaborative.
“We'd like our firefighters to stay on board with us and work on the program. Ideally, that's what we'd like,” said Director Olson.
The city has stood by its argument that PSO program increases the number of those who respond to an emergency.
“It's unfortunate that we have a group of employees that are unwilling to cooperate with this program and it's dividing this community,” said Councilman Mark Miller at a meeting in September 2019.
The local firefighter's union filed a lawsuit in July that questioned several promotions with claims that the PSOs promoted are unqualified. City officials fired back when they said they would “vigorously defend the lawsuit.” A motion to discuss a possible trial is set for early January of 2020.
In November, things shook up with the election of Councilman Rob Green, who's been critical of the PSO program. Mayor-elect Green has pushed for further transparency and a reexamination of the program.
The next month, two city council seats flipped in a runoff election with Simon Harding and Dave Sires. Each candidate has questioned the PSO model.
“If the people in the city want separate fire and police, who's choice is it?” asked Simon Harding at the city council meeting the night before the runoff election.
The three will take office in January.