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SPECIAL REPORT: Corridor police officers pulling double duty, training as firefighters

Chief John Bostwick of Cedar Falls Fire Rescue shows a group of officers from the Cedar Falls Police Department around a fire engine on Monday, February 5, 2018.

Public service is in Gavin Carman's blood.

"My father was a 25-year volunteer fireman back home," Carman says. "Grandfather and great-grandfather were also in the fire department."

Carman is an officer with the Cedar Falls Police Department - but he's getting involved in family business too.

"As a police officer,' Carman says, "if I'm capable and able to assist the public in another way - such as being able to fight a fire - why not?"

That's right. Carman is both a police officer and firefighter. It's a choice veterans of the department like Carman can make in Cedar Falls.

For new recruits, it's a mandatory part of a new era and system.

"When we hire a new individual in the public safety department, they have to be a public safety officer," Jeff Olson says. Not only is Olson the police chief in Cedar Falls; he's also the director of public safety.

A public safety officer in Cedar Falls has graduated from the police academy - but is also trained to fight fires.

"As some of the firefighters retire, we're taking some of those positions and cross-training them to police and fire," Olson says. "So now you have a few more on patrol on the police side - but they also can respond to the fire calls."

By this summer, Cedar Falls expects to have three dozen public safety officers trained.

That's welcome news to John Bostwick, the city's fire chief.

"To add 36 people by this summer - to augment what we've already got - it's going to be huge," Bostwick says. "It's going to give us the capability to nearly double - more than double - the amount of people that we have."

Those PSOs can be the first on scene to start getting the lay of the land.

"You'll see the police officers arrive on the scene. They have the gear in their car. They'll put the gear on," Olson says. "They'll already start assessing the fire: 'Where's the hydrant?' 'Is there anyone inside?' 'Do we need to evacuate adjoining property?' They're already starting and making some decisions - so when a fire truck arrives, they can immediately begin suppression efforts."

Some PSOs even have water tanks in the back of their cruisers to fight smaller fires themselves. A demostration from Officer Carman shows the simplicity of the deployment - allowing a one-man crew to start suppressing flames in a matter of seconds.

"One of our PSOs has done that several times in the past - hooking up the fire hydrant," Bostwick says, "and it saves us precious minutes to have that truck already up at the fire putting out the fire."

Cross-training is also about to make history in Cedar Falls. On February 5, a group of 16 officers began their PSO training. That group includes five women. In the 150-year history of Cedar Falls Fire Rescue, there has been only one female firefighter.

With those new skills will come a new platform.

"They'll also offer role models to those young women that are looking for something," Bostwick says, "and it'll be a great avenue for them to pursue a different career."

For Officer Dusanka Devic, who grew up in Cedar Falls and graduated from the University of Northern Iowa, it's simply a chance to help out her hometown.

"It's a blooming city - and so I feel with so many public safety officers and everyone just working together, it's that much better," Devic says. "I'm excited for the training to be over because when something does happen, there'll be 13, 14, 15 of us as firemen, firewomen on a scene - and I feel that's really important. The more hands, the better at a fire scene."

Olson says a public safety officers costs around $107,500 - which includes salary, benefits, and equipment. The idea is that doing cross-training now and building up numbers of dual-role PSOs now will allow for a hiring slowdown in the future, providing significant cost savings for the city of Cedar Falls.

CBS 2/FOX 28 inquired about potential plans for public safety cross-training initiatives at the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City police departments. Neither agencies are currently pursuing the endeavor.

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