THE NEVADA COMMUNITY FIRE DEPARTMENT. The Nevada Community Fire Department (NCFD), is located in Nevada, Iowa, the county seat for Story County. Nevada is located approximately 30 miles north (on Interstate 35) and 7 miles east (on US Highway 30) of Des Moines, Iowa’s capital. The department serves a suburban/rural fire district of approximately 144 square miles. Within its boundaries are 12 miles of Interstate 35 (connecting Kansas City, MO and Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN), 12 miles of US Highway 30 and the junction of Union Pacific Railroad’s former Rock Island North/South “Spine Line,” and its busy double-track, East/West “Overland Route” mainline, roughly 45 linear miles of the busiest rail line in Iowa.
NCFD is a subdivision of Nevada’s Department of Public Safety. AND, NCFD, itself, is comprised of two divisions: the Fire Protection Division, responsible for fire suppression, technical rescue, hazardous materials first response, and initial response to environmental emergencies, and the EMS Division which performs medical first responder services. It is staffed by a career Chief (Director of Fire and EMS) and approximately 30 volunteers, most of whom are cross-trained and serve in in both divisions. The agency responds to approximately 700 calls a year, roughly 70% of which are calls for emergency medical services.
CURRENT APPARATUS. The department currently operates a Sutphen 70′ “Mini-Tower” and two Spartan engines– one a Spartan/Toyne engine-tank, the other a new Spartan/Toyne rescue engine. Nevada also houses two tankers, two 4WD Ford wildland units, and a 4WD Ford rescue squad.
EVOLUTION OF THE DEPARTMENT. Iowa was designated as a separate territory in 1838 and became the 29th state in 1846. Nevada was first platted in 1853. Its fire department was established in 1860, a year before the start of the American Civil War (as a point of reference, the Iowa City Fire Department– arguably the oldest in the state– was authorized in 1842).
A PROGRESSIVE VISION. From the beginning, Nevada followed a pattern of far-sighted fire protection. After major fires in 1880 and 1882, the community adopted an ordinance prohibiting wood construction in major business district buildings. One of the buildings erected afterward was a new 2-story, brick building housing city administration and quarters for the fire department. A mutual aid agreement, of sorts, was already in existence in 1882, when Nevada’s firefighters and equipment were summoned to nearby Ames to help battle a central city fire (but, according to the local paper, “…before a train could be procured, better news came down and our boys were returned”). The city was one of the first in the region, in 1888, to establish a municipal waterworks system and elevated water tank for enhanced fire protection. By 1890, the city’s early hand-drawn, hand-pumped “enjine” (referred to as the “Squirt”) was augmented by 20 fire hydrants and 1350 feet of hose, transported on two hose carts.
Fire control innovations continued into the early 20th century with the purchase of a hand-drawn, 45 gallon Champion “Improved” chemical engine in 1911. By this time, Nevada’s firefighters were formally divided into individual companies, assigned to specific pieces of apparatus. In a 1913 fire department journal, reference is found to crews for hand-drawn “Hose Cart #1,” “Hose Cart #2,” and a “Chemical” cart, plus a 2-horse-drawn “Hook and Ladder Company.” Each was led by a Captain and Lieutenant (except for chemical, which had only a Captain). Each hose cart also had designated hose “coupler” and “hydrant” positions. This method of formal assignment to companies continued until 1924.
Nevada’s first motorized apparatus, a 1-1/2 ton chemical truck, arrived in 1921. It was specified to have “no polish (britework), all plain.” The greater mobility of this truck led to the first expansion of fire protection services (on a pay-per-call basis) into surrounding rural areas.
THE “GOLDEN” ERA– THE MID-’50S. Innovation has punctuated the Nevada department’s development throughout its history. But, in terms of local, regional and national visibility, the mid-1950s were times of exceptional departmental change and prominence. During this time the department was staffed by an extraordinarily energetic, dedicated and knowledgeable group of firefighters, and the city’s first paid Fire Chief, 26-year-old Gerald “Garry” Mills.
Two factors seemed to set the stage for this period of rapid evolution. The first was the emergence of Iowa State College’s Firemanship Training Program (later Fire Service Extension and now the Fire Service Training Bureau) as a leading institution of U.S. fire suppression education and research. The second was Chief Mills’ exceptionally active work as an instructor and researcher in this program and his application of its theories and practices to the Nevada department.
The fiscal year 1954-1955 was particularly representative of this period, especially in terms of advances in the community’s system of rural fire protection. In 1954, Iowa State College’s Firemanship Training Program was experimenting with an innovative system of rural fire addressing and dispatching. Nevada became one of the first departments to employ it. While there is evidence of innovation throughout its service was further expanded in 1953 with the formation of the Nevada Rural Fire Protection Association (NRFPA), which provided separate apparatus (staffed by the same personnel) for response to fires in the unincorporated areas surrounding Nevada.
In addition to the formation of the NRFPA, under the leadership of volunteer Fire Chief Gerald Mills, several events marked the ’50s as the “golden” era of the fire department. Despite the previously mentioned tendency toward spare practicality, in 1954 Nevada purchased its first piece of “custom” apparatus, an open cab, 750 gpm, Seagrave “Anniversary” series pumper. It was piggybacked onto the order of an identical unit by the adjacent Ames (IA) Fire Department.
During this time, the frequency and quality of departmental training were also greatly expanded. Himself an active instructor for the Iowa State College Firemanship Program of the time, Mills invited in many of the state’s best instructors, frequently nationally noted authors and speakers. This, in turn, inspired the active involvement of other members of the department in local and state training initiatives.
Under Mills’ leadership, the department gained considerable state and national recognition, for its innovative fire prevention programs. In 1955, Iowa State College recognized his personal achievements, stating that he “deserves commendation for his progressive efforts to make Nevada a fire-safe city.” The next year, the city received the National Fire Protection Association’s Certificate of Merit for its public fire education efforts. Mills left the Nevada department in 1957 to join the staff of Iowa State University’s Fire Service Extension Program. Recognizing the value of strong departmental leadership, all of Nevada’s subsequent Fire Chief’s have been paid employees of the city.
THE ’60S AND ’70S– THE “RATE-OF-FLOW” ERA. From 1952 to 1959 Iowa State College’s Fire Service Extension Service (ISC) was heavily involved in a program of so-called “rate-of-flow” research spearheaded by staff members Bill Nelson and Keith Royer. Former Chief Mills– by this time, himself a full-time ISC instructor– was a member of the Advisory Committee on the Application of Water Fog. He frequently assisted with project field tests, widely recognized as one of its more authoritative advocates. As might be expected, his department relies heavily upon use of water fog and utilizes every device to make its application most effective. of at Iowa State University from Due to his efforts at the local level, the Nevada department was an early adopter of project concepts, especially the so-called “indirect attack.” and other suppression methods addressed by Nelson and Royer’s research. Rightly or wrongly, this was interpreted as limiting the department’s tactics to exterior fire attack.
He is a member of the Advisory Committee on the Application of Water Fog, Iowa State College. As might be expected, his department relies heavily upon use of water fog and utilizes every device to make its application most effective.
MODERN INNOVATIONS. But, the department’s exploration and adoption of technical innovations did not end with Mills’ departure. In more recent times, the department has had a long record of “firsts.” It was the first department in Story County to replace an antiquated telephone-based alerting system with mobile radio pagers. It was first in its region to employ large diameter supply line, positive pressure ventilation (Tempest), and chainsaws (Cutter’s Edge) for ventilation. It was also among the first area fire departments to acquire thermal imaging cameras, automatic defibrillators, and multi-gas detection instrumentation.
Nevada returned to commercial apparatus for a short time with a fleet of Ford C-series apparatus– a collection of two engines and a rear-mount aerial. However, it soon returned to custom apparatus for good, becoming the first of 13 volunteer departments in Story County to transition its entire front-line fleet to custom fire apparatus chassis.
CURRENT CHALLENGES. Like most suburban fire departments, NCFD is a haz-mat, rescue, EMS and environmental emergency service that occasionally fights fires. However, some of its most significant challenges for the future are likely to be fire-related. Its first-due area includes one of the biggest corn-based ethanol refineries in Iowa. It also includes one of the largest cellulosic ethanol refineries anywhere– and one of only a few in the U.S. Besides the hazards posed by the refinery itself, the massive fields of stored baled corn stover have already proven to be formidable fire protection challenges.
Indirectly, the burgeoning alternative fuel industry has contributed to another challenging fire protection issue– the fire and rescue potential of liquid fuel transport. With two of the Mid-West’s most active rail lines crossing in the populated center of its district, adequate preparation to deal with hazardous materials derailments will be a formidable and on-going task.
TOOL TIPS– UNIFORMITY OF HAND TOOLS & EQUIPMENT. Nevada has, for many years, carried a generous inventory of hand tools on its front-line apparatus. And, the equipment carried by major apparatus has tended to be fairly uniform in type, number, and mounting locations. As shown in the photos below, a standard complement of tools is mounted in the rear riding compartments of Nevada’s major apparatus: one Hawk tool by itself, two Halligan bars– one mated with a flathead (the conventional “married set” fashion) and the other mated with a Hawk tool– each set secured in a PAC Irons-Lok. On the opposite side of the riding-compartment are a pickhead axe and a “closet hook-length” Clemens hook.
Elsewhere, units carry a fairly uniform compliment of chainsaws, positive pressure ventilation blowers, additional forcible entry “married set(s),” a Pulaski axe, longer Clemens hooks, an Odd-Job hook (also called a Universal hook), wrecking bars, crowbars of varying lengths, and bolt cutters. Various instrumentation– thermal imaging camera, infrared thermometer, electrical “hot stick,” and multi-gas meter– is mounted in front, next to the officer.