MISSOURI VALLEY, Iowa — Fourteen fire departments from three Iowa counties were called to help battle a fire Thursday that damaged five businesses in Woodbine.
Two brought ladder trucks, which are used to combat high-rise fires, but neither was from Harrison County.
A proposed $2 million fire station on U.S. Highway 30 in Missouri Valley could eventually house the county’s first ladder truck.
Missouri Valley paid $200,000 to purchase a 3.5-acre plot just west of town to construct a new fire station, but the city must raise $1.8 million before moving ahead with the project, Mayor Clint Sargent said. The land is part of unincorporated Harrison County but will be voluntarily annexed once the project is completed.
“We’re aggressively seeking all funding opportunities to generate funds outside of property taxes,” Sargent said. “The new facility is going to open up opportunities that haven’t been there before.”
Fundraising events for the fire station are planned, including a car show and chili cook-off Sunday in Missouri Valley. Half of the proceeds will go toward the fire station.
Larry Wohlers, acting chief of the Council Bluffs Fire Department, said services provided through mutual-aid agreements in Harrison County are hampered by distance. The delays can mean heavy damage to structures.
In the case of the Woodbine fire, ladder trucks were brought from Denison and Harlan, which both are about 30 minutes away. Missouri Valley is about 10 minutes closer to Woodbine.
A ladder truck is considered one of the most effective methods to extinguish high-rise fires, Wohlers said. An aerial approach makes it easier for firefighters to directly attack the heat of the fire as opposed to aiming a stream of water toward the roof from the ground, which results in a “rainfall” effect.
“You get an advantage when you get above it,” Wohlers said. “You can’t really fight it from the ground.”
Woodbine City Administrator Joe Gaa said that if Missouri Valley had a ladder truck, it would have arrived sooner Thursday because firefighters there receive an alert from Harrison County dispatchers. Woodbine had to request assistance from Denison and Harlan because those cities are outside the county.
But Gaa was thankful for the response from Denison and Harlan.
“Those ladder trucks were the difference in how many buildings were a total loss in our fire,” he said.
Other changes for Missouri Valley fire personnel would include an expanded training facility for volunteer firefighters in southwest Iowa. The fire department currently trains personnel from Dunlap, Persia, Magnolia, Little Sioux, Modale, Crescent, Carter Lake, Mondamin, Logan and Woodbine.
A larger fire station also would allow the city to hold fewer training classes for incoming firefighters. The current classroom holds 24 students. The new facility will hold about 48. Missouri Valley Fire and Rescue has 22 volunteers.
Missouri Valley Fire Chief Johnnie Walker said the new fire station would house all 10 of the department’s emergency service vehicles. The current facility, built in 1931, cannot house every vehicle because it also is home to Missouri Valley’s City Hall. An additional vehicle bay was added to the fire station in 1975. The city also plans to construct a new city hall building.
The department’s two brush fire trucks are housed in a separate facility that is not heated. That means the vehicles must be drained during the winter to prevent potential damage, hampering the department’s ability to fight fires.
A feasibility study conducted in 2013 found that the current facilities were outdated and did not adhere to federal guidelines. “We’ve outgrown the facility,” Sargent said. A new fire station would include sleeping quarters, showers, a fitness room and kitchen area.
Missouri Valley’s goal is to build a fire station that will meet the needs of the city and Harrison County more than 50 years down the road, Sargent said.
The Missouri Valley Volunteer Fire Department has a mutual-aid fire district of 115 square miles, the largest in Harrison County. The area stretches one mile south of Loveland, north to the outskirts of Modale, west to the Blair Bridge and east to the Logan-Magnolia Golf Course.
In 2012, Missouri Valley Fire and Rescue responded to 574 calls. Of those, 158 were mutual-aid fire calls. The rest were for emergency medical and rescue services.
The new station would include a conference center to serve as a central command post for government or fire officials during crises.
“We don’t have to look for other spots to set up a command post,” he said. “The last time we had a large-scale incident was the flood, and we had to utilize a conference room at the hospital as opposed to having a controlled command post.”