Serving Double Duty: Five Fire Chiefs on One Department
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – A fire department typically has one fire chief, but the Cedar Rapids Fire Department has a handful.
Fire chiefs from across Eastern Iowa are finding themselves working on the same team. They are pulling double duty by working for both Cedar Rapids and their hometown volunteer fire departments.
"I think the passion is what drives us to do it and keeps us going and keeps us excited about it," said Springville Fire Chief Patrick Hoyt.
Hoyt is one of five fire chiefs on the Cedar Rapids Fire Department, other than the Cedar Rapids Fire Chief. Hoyt is starting his third year as chief in Springville, while he serves as a firefighter in Cedar Rapids.
Roy Becker is ranked a captain in Cedar Rapids, but holds the title of Chief at the Norway Volunteer Fire Department. Cedar Rapids Firefighter Eric Vandewater has been serving as the fire chief in North Liberty for seven years. He is paid a part-time salary for his guidance to the volunteer department.
"You get the best of both worlds, in a way," Chief Vandewater said.
Firefighter Curt Woode is the chief of the Tipton Fire Department. Nathan Goodlove wears a firefighter helmet in Cedar Rapids and a chief helmet for Mount Vernon. He just started his stint as chief this past July.
"We all catch a lot of flak from everybody else because we wear a white helmet at a different department. There's a little ... poking fun from other Firefighters," Goodlove said.
They all work about 53 hours a week in Cedar Rapids. In their downtime, they put in hours for the volunteer departments.
"It takes a lot of commitment on the volunteer side and it's a lot of work sometimes to juggle the volunteer and paid departments," said Chief Becker.
Some said they spent hours every week on projects for the volunteer units. They all agree, the work load is very different.
"Here (in Cedar Rapids), I'm going to be taking orders, I'm going to be inside the fire," Chief Hoyt said. "But in Springville, I'm going to be outside, giving orders, trying to make sure the resources are there, trying to make sure the proper people are in the proper positions, make sure of their safety."
The chiefs need to be able to switch from chief mode to firefighter mode very quickly.
"It's nice to be the boss sometimes, but it's also nice to be the guy with the tool in your hand," Chief Goodlove said.
While it's extra work, pulling double duty works to their advantage. It means double the training.
"The training we get at our home department can be very diverse ... I may run a call here in Cedar Rapids that I've never run here before," Chief Becker said. "But I've run two or three of them in the volunteer department and you know how to handle them just on the experience there."
Whether they're fighting fires for their hometown departments or in Cedar Rapids, they said they wouldn't have it any other way.
"It gets in your blood in a way and once you've got that, there's nothing else you want to do," Chief Hoyt said.
Fire officials said at least 35 Cedar Rapids firefighters are members of a volunteer fire department in the area. For many, it's the place they first discovered their love of fighting fires and took that step towards making it a career.