Firefighters called to two fires Tuesday night

Radios again cause problems for city and county emergency personnel

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Fire Chief Joey Herren barely got in the door after Tuesday Fort Madison City Council meeting before being called to not one, but two fires at about 9 p.m.

The first fire broke out after what Herren called a “hot load” was dumped at the Great River Regional Waste Authority landfill on the city’s northeast side.

“That would be what we call a hot load coming in from one of the trash trucks. They get those every once in a while. It’s pretty rare, but that’s what happened,” Herren told Pen City Current Wednesday morning.

“Sometimes it might a chemical, or something was smoldering when they dumped the load.”

He said landfill officials had found a similar spot earlier in the day, but were able to bury it and cut the area off, but they think this fire was from one of the last loads of the day.

Mutual aid was brought in from Denmark and Wever fire and rescue units to help tank water up to the site.

About three minutes after the page for the landfill fire, firefighters were paged to possible structure fire on Old Denmark Hill. That fire turned out to a be from a candle that was left burning that smoldered and caught fire.

However that fire was contained to one room. Firefighters broke in a window on the building’s north side and quickly extinguished the fire. Herren said there was minimal fire and smoke damage.

With the two fires being battled with separate command structures, Herren said communication was critical, but radio signals were shoddy and impeded the process.

“We were talking about it this morning again, and I joked we should have just thrown the radios into the fire. That’s how bad it was. They were no good,” Herren said.

Scanner chatter indicated firefighters from all three departments were having trouble communicating from the top of the landfill pile where the fire was located to the base near the entry way.

“That’s a single path up there and I’ve got command and running tankers up and down and they couldn’t hear me from the top of that pile to the base of the hill,” Herren said.

But he said aside from the radios, he was very happy with how the department handled the two fires simultaneously.

“Everything else went like clockwork. I was very happy with how we handled both of those at the same time.”

Herren is part of a committee that is researching and advocating for a transition to a digital radio system in Lee County. The system carries a $7 million price tag and would be paid for with an assessment through the county’s Emergency Management Services levy allowance. That would be a tax assessed to all county property owners commercial and private.

Two weekends ago, the Lee County Sheriff’s Department was part of two separate searches for residents in the county near the southern part of the county on the Des Moines River.

Sheriff Stacy Weber said he encountered multiple issues with the communications, not only internally to his deputies, but to other departments as well.

Those searches turned up the body of Jacob Pezley of Argyle and another man who was found without incident after walking to his parent’s house. He had run his boat aground after falling asleep and then walked back to the home.

Weber said he’s hoping to open bids on the digital radio project this month and get a clearer picture on the cost to transition the county over to digital. The project would upgrade all communication systems for all county emergency responders to digital and the entire process could take up to two years to complete.

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