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Record calls for 2019

Solon firefighters log busiest year ever

SOLON– “We set a record again this year,” Chief Bob Siddell reported. “Four-hundred-fifty-eight calls. The most we’ve ever done as a fire department.”
Siddell presented the fire department’s 2019 annual report at a joint meeting of the Solon Tri-Township Emergency Response Agency and Solon City Council Jan. 22 in City Hall.
“And you can see the trend from 2014 (346 calls) until now is not going down,” he said. “With Solon growing, with the area outside of the community growing, those numbers I think are going to continue to increase.”
Solon firefighters spent 4,184 hours on the job, including time on calls, training, meetings and events in 2019.
The value of the volunteers, based on $23 an hour, was $498,300, Siddell noted.
“It shows you the value of our volunteers and what time and effort that we put into this organization for the community,” he added.
Of the 458 calls for service, Solon had the most calls with 204, while Newport Township accounted for 103. Big Grove Township had 60 calls, with 66 for mutual aid. The majority of the calls were medical (252), with 32 rescue/trauma incidents, six structure fires and six wild land fires. Total fire and property loss was $1,061,000, with an average turnout time of five minutes.
The Solon Tri-Township Fire Department has the biggest response area in Johnson County, 112 square miles, from the Linn County line to Iowa City and as far east as the Cedar County line and from Sandy Beach to the Coralville Dam.
Mutual aid responses have increased in the last two years as a result of a new countywide protocol, Siddell said.
“We’re not the only ones struggling for day help,” he said.
With many volunteers away for day jobs, firefighters from other communities are often paged automatically based on a set of conditions.
Any type of structure call, visible fire or smoke, multiple alarms, could all trigger the automatic mutual aid, paging the closest departments, the chief explained.
North Liberty, West Branch and Iowa City respond the most with Solon’s department, he said.
“It’s really, really helped everybody in the county,” Siddell said. “It’s crucial everywhere, but it’s really crucial in the county because of water.”
It doesn’t take long battling a good-sized fire to run through the thousands of gallons the engines can carry to the scene, he said.
“We can always turn ‘em around, but if we don’t call them and we need them, we’re already behind the eight-ball,” he observed of the mutual aid responses.
Some areas of Solon’s district are 10 miles away, and other fire departments are actually closer, he noted. Such was the case with a recent house fire near Iowa City.
“We don’t care if they beat us in there,” Siddell added.
The agreements result in faster response times and less damage, but are also a benefit to your insurance premium if you live close enough to the station because they keep the district’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating low.
On a scale of one to 10 (one being the best), Siddell said, Solon Tri-Township Fire Department has an ISO 4 rating, something not a lot of Iowa volunteer departments can accomplish.
Solon is not far from an ISO 3, he added.
Five members of the fire department retired in 2019, including Steve Stange (member since 1988), Tim Bell (2003), Trevor Miller (2013), Lake Reyhons (2016) and Greg Rowland (2018).
The departures dropped the number of members to 32, but four new probationary members were added in December, potentially bringing the ranks up to its targeted size, Siddell said.
“Our numbers are still good,” he added. “Obviously, daytime is a little bit of a struggle for us, but we’re still able to meet the needs of the community as far as firefighters being around and being able to respond during the day.”