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Assistant fire-rescue chief transitions into disaster plans

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wayne Schipper wore many hats as part of his Le Mars Fire-Rescue chief responsibilities in the 27 years he headed the city emergency department.

Currently, he's working with Le Mars Assistant Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Wise to train the department's new officer in one area he's handled -- emergency preparedness.

Le Mars Fire-Rescue Chief David Schipper said one of the things people may not understand is the city department is not just the fire department.

"We're the emergency management side for the city ... we're the ones that get called to just about anything that you don't call law enforcement for," he said.

The calls are in addition to the fire responses, fire inspections, fire prevention talks, fire extinguisher classes and firefighter training, David Schipper added.

The growth of the community has increased those calls, he said.

"Our fire-rescue call total has just sky-rocketed, the ambulance call totals are up and the police call totals are up," the fire-rescue chief said.

Enhancing services for public safety is the focus of the changes within the fire-rescue department, he emphasized.

"I don't know how the former fire-rescue chief did it all," David Schipper said. "We're upgrading (with the assistant fire-rescue chief) for the benefit of the community to do the best job we can."

He described the changes as a continual enhancement of the way things had been done in the city with just one person.

The enhancement process began as Wayne Schipper was retiring two years ago and the full-time fire-rescue chief's job was dissected into all the different duties, Wayne Schipper said.

"We've got to get this to where the public understands that they're getting a service, but they need to have it enhanced so we started separating things out," he added.

Wayne Schipper, who retired as chief in June 2010, began increasing the transition of several of his recent volunteer roles for the city when Wise started his duties July 1.

The transition is a process that takes time, Wayne Schipper said.

"We want to make sure that when we do the transitions we do it in the best way we can," he said. "The safety of the public is important to us as we do these things."

The retired fire-rescue chief sees the change to an assistant chief within the fire department as enhancing areas of city services citizens may not know have been handled by the department whose public image is fighting fires.

As an example, Wayne Schipper has provided Wise' training on the city's outdoor emergency sirens.

"I've been with him the last three months mentoring him about how the sirens work, where they're located, the maintenance on them and how the city's public works division works with fire-rescue," he said.

Wayne Schipper views himself as one of the mainstays of the siren system because the siren role was designated to the fire-rescue chief by mayors for more than 30 years, he said.

His recent siren duties focused on working with Le Mars Fire-Rescue Chief David Schipper on possible grant sources and buying equipment to meet a new federal requirement for the radio signals which sound the outdoor sirens.

When the sirens' radio system is switched to a narrow-band radio frequency communication by January, the system will also have a back-up power source.

"Battery packs will be installed with the narrow band equipment," David Schipper said. "If the power's out, the sirens will work to alert the public to tornadoes."

Grant dollars to pay for the new equipment often depend on written plans to prepare for natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, fires.

The paperwork is known as hazardous mitigation plans, the fire-rescue chief said.

"You've go to have these mitigation plans up-to-date to even apply for that type of grant," David Schipper said.

Wise steps into the role of keeping the plans current as part of his assistant fire-rescue chief duties, the Schippers said.

Through the retired fire-rescue chief's work, the sirens have been relocated to areas in the city where there has been growth.

Planning for sirens to alert people in areas of future growth is another part of the emergency preparedness the new assistant chief is shifting to his work list, David Schipper said.

"That is a continual thing where you have to re-evaluate the city map every so often and see where the residents are going and where we're putting parks to make sure we have siren coverage for those things -- that's something Mike Wise is learning," he said.

Hazardous mitigation, is a big task, David Schipper said.

"There is so much paperwork with this hazardous mitigation and the state and feds are constantly changing it," he explained.

In the grant area, six of the 10 pages to request grant dollars for hazardous mitigation might change in one year, David Schipper said.

Records kept for the hazardous mitigation planning track details of the city's response to previous natural disasters such as tornadoes in the 1990s and changes to reduce the impact of flooding.

The city's disaster plan has been another duty the retired fire-rescue chief kept current annually.

Wise and David Schipper will meet with city department heads next year to do a tabletop disaster so everyone knows what his or her responsibility is if there's a disaster.

A scenario for the planning such as an ammonia leak, fire, flood or tornado might be chosen, Schipper said.

The planning includes a list of city equipment and employee rosters, he said.

"Somebody's got to keep track of that and that was part of the duties of the fire-rescue department that people didn't realize we even had," David Schipper said.

As Wise works into the emergency planning and response roles, he will look to Wayne Schipper for history and expertise, he said.

"It's nice to know the thought process of how they derived some of the plans because then it makes sense; I need those life experience to help this transition be more efficient," he said.

Wise isn't the only person drawing on Wayne Schipper's experience and training.

The retired chief will offer his fire chief's perspective in an hour-long presentation at a state meeting of fire chiefs Nov. 17 in Iowa City.

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