CAMANCHE — The Camanche City Council held a public hearing Tuesday to discuss the current issues facing the Camanche Fire Department.

Residents and members of the fire department gathered to discuss a proposal to bill for ambulance services, a proposal to upgrade the level of ambulance service and staffing issues.

Camanche is unique in that most Iowa cities charge for ambulance services, which are paid for at least in part by insurance companies.

In his opening remarks, Mayor Jim Robertson stated, “What the volunteer fire department does for this community is greatly appreciated.”

Fire Chief Dave Schutte presented information concerning the fire department, its requirements and its needs.

Schutte indicated the changes the fire department has dealt with over the past 28 years, comparing present requirements to those enforced in 1981.

Volunteer requirements have greatly increased, with volunteers involved in hundreds of hours of training and testing in CPR, firefighting, EMT certification and state and federal requirements. Also, the paperwork required of the department following an incident has greatly increased as numerous pages of detailed forms must be filled out.

“The services we provide have also been enhanced over the years,” Schutte stated.

In 1981, the department provided fire suppression, ambulance transport and participated in fundraising. The department now offers over a dozen services, including cold water rescue, fire prevention programs and Hazardous Materials response.

“We try to provide the best possible service with the resources that we have,” said Schutte.

Along with this, the workload for the department has also increased.

Not only is there an increased call level, with 399 incidents in 2008, but the department must also spend hours preparing volunteers and equipment for emergencies.

According to Schutte, new members spend an average of 40 or more hours per month on training, certification and responding to calls.

“That’s like an extra 40 hour work week on top of their current schedule,” stated Schutte. “The volunteers are invaluable.”

Unfortunately, the department is experiencing a drop in members. Schutte indicated that since 2001, the department received 30 new applicants. Of those 30, only eight are still members.

“Only about 20 percent of new applicants are here after five years,” Schutte stated.

Schutte also stated that regardless of whether or not the department bills for ambulance services, staffing must be increased.

However, Schutte proposed that fees collected could be used to hire another full-time firefighter who would also be a certified paramedic.

“If we’re going to charge, I think you should get a higher level of service,” Schutte said.

In hiring a paramedic, Schutte stated the goal would be to provide paramedic service all the time. The volunteers would supplement as they do now, but with no additional time requirements.

“Hiring another person is going to alleviate some of the requirements of the volunteers,” stated Schutte. “If we can generate the funds to pay for the position without any tax increases, why not?”

Schutte stated that currently, if the Camanche Fire Department doesn’t have a paramedic available on a call, the ambulance must meet a Clinton paramedic. This results in about a 10-minute wait, which Schutte said, could mean the difference between life or death. Also, Schutte stated that Camanche citizens must pay for Clinton’s services if they are used.

Following Schutte’s presentation, the council and community members discussed their thoughts on the possibility of charging for ambulance services, and increasing staffing. Though no decision was reached at the meeting, the council will decide if the proposals are to be accepted.