With a rapidly growing community and an even faster-growing university student body, Ames is no longer a quiet, sleepy Midwest college town as the frequent sounds of emergency sirens often attest.
Now, with the recent influx of another 20,000-plus students to the city as Iowa State University begins its new school year, Ames’ fire and police departments are busier than normal responding to a steady flow of both emergency and non-emergency service calls.
The new school year brings with it both challenges and opportunities for the Ames police and fire departments, and here, in the words of the two men who oversee the departments — Police Chief Chuck Cychosz and Fire Chief Shawn Bayouth — are how officers and firefighters carry out their duties.
Shawn Bayouth, Ames Fire Chief
Q: What sorts of special preparations and training go into getting your firefighters and your entire department ready for the arrival of students on campus?
A: In 2013, Ames firefighters averaged more than 90 hours each year in training to prepare themselves for a multitude of emergencies, including firefighting skills, hazardous materials response, medical care, vehicle extrication and technical rescue (e.g., confined space, water, ice, high/low angle, etc.). Emergencies continue to occur with or without students on campus, so firefighters prepare and train equally as hard throughout the year.
Q: What kinds of outreach programs, if any, will your department be doing in late summer and early fall to help connect the student body with your firefighters?
A: The Ames Fire Department takes part in several outreach programs each year. Look for the firefighters helping to spread their fire safety messages at such events as the Student Activities Center’s WelcomeFest, the Department of Residence’s Community Advisor orientation program, and Environmental Health and Safety’s activities for Campus Fire Safety Awareness Month.
Q: What kinds of outreach programs does your department do throughout the year to help better connect the community at large with your firefighters?
A: Firefighters spent more than 4,000 hours in 2013 performing outreach and public education to members of the community. Some of those hours spent included providing nearly 200 station tours of the three fire stations to adults and children, interacting with more than 1,000 local businesses while pre-planning their facilities in the event of an emergency, and installing 36 smoke detectors into homes and residences of disadvantaged citizens throughout Ames.
Q: What’s the most common call your department responds to?
A: Emergency medical incidents (e.g., difficulty breathing, chest pain, etc.) are the most frequent type of emergency.
Q: What do the firefighters do when they’re not out on a call?
A: Firefighters remain very busy even when not on emergency incidents. They spend hundreds of individual hours each year training for potential emergencies, maintaining fire station facilities and equipment, pre-planning structures throughout Ames, providing public education on fire and life safety topics and maintaining their physical fitness for an extremely difficult and demanding job. They live at the fire station 24 straight hours at a time. Because the fire station in effect becomes their “home” for those 24 hours, it is possible to find firefighters doing everyday chores around the station, such as cooking, cleaning, washing and drying their uniforms or occasionally watching television during non-business hours.
Q: What’s a service many people likely don’t know that your department performs?
A: The Fire Department provides public education on many topics. A common request we receive is for fire extinguisher training for service groups, companies and other organizations. If someone was interested in this training, he or she can call Station No. 1 at (515) 239-5415, and the on-duty shift commander would be happy to schedule a training session with some of our many knowledgeable firefighters.
Q: A sudden influx of some 20,000-plus young people undoubtedly places a significant increase in the burden on your department each August, but what kind of positive opportunities does this same influx create for your firefighters and the department?
A: Just like the majority of Ames’ citizens, firefighters also get excited about the start of new school year. Each August, the increased energy and vibrancy of the community affords firefighters the opportunity to help spread the message about fire safety to even more people. Firefighters enjoy speaking with new students about such topics as cooking safety and the importance of keeping working smoke detectors where you sleep. Students have also been a tremendous help to our department, such as using firefighters in their qualitative and quantitative research, in efforts to solve safety problem and concerns. Iowa State University students have also completed internships with the fire department, helping out with various programs and projects around the stations. Overall, the relationship that firefighters maintain with Iowa State University students has been very positive over the years.
Chuck Cychosz, Ames Police Chief
Q: What sorts of special preparations and training go into getting your officers and your entire department ready for the arrival of students on campus?
A: Training is 12-month issue in a community like this. Our Safe Neighborhoods Team (SNT) leads the effort to build neighborhood relationships and solve problems. This effort is based in outreach through presentations, block parties and individual contacts with citizens in neighborhoods. Similarly, the problem-solving focus is intended to respond to neighborhood concerns about crime and quality of life. The department is committed to this effort, but the SNT has the greatest flexibility is reaching out to neighborhoods to make this effort visible. In fact, they will go door to door in some neighborhoods where most of the residents are new each year. Since so many of our residents are students, the SNT has a substantial commitment to working with students on quality of life in their neighborhood. Mixing large numbers of pedestrians, bicyclists and cars is always a challenge. We would have fewer injuries if people would follow basic traffic rules like stopping for pedestrians who are crossing, crossing with the light at crosswalks and obeying stop signs. Back to school routes pose a special challenge with very young children making their way to school beginning in August. Our crossing guards are out every school day trying to help young children get safely to school.
Q: What kinds of outreach programs will your department be doing in late summer and early fall to help connect the student body with your officers?
A: In addition to the Safe Neighborhoods Team, our community resource officer works with landlords to address disruptive behavior. She also has a problem-solving agenda and will work with issues and groups to address community concerns. Other programs include:
• Many Ames property managers have participated in the Crime-Free Housing program. In addition to physical improvements in the safety features of multi-family housing, this program brings landlords and tenants together with the police to discourage crime and disruption in multi-family housing units.
• WelcomeFest is probably the most visible start of school event that students will see us attending.
• Over the last year we have placed a great emphasis on social media. We now try to notify the public of major events, weather and road closures when they occur using Facebook and Twitter. Recently, we began using Pinterest to highlight some events and get back lost and found property. We have been running our own YouTube Channel and recently added Instagram.
Q: What kinds of outreach programs does your department do throughout the year to help better connect the community at large with your officers?
A: We do hundreds of presentations to all kinds of groups throughout the year. In addition, we have traditionally worked with ISU Police on a safety/safe behavior campaign during the year. The focus of this effort varies but it often emphasizes issues that affect students. Also, the Ames Citizens Police Academy runs for eight weeks with sessions both in the spring and fall. This program takes an in-depth look at the modern policing and the implementation of these ideas in Ames. Interested parties can apply through the community resource officer.
Q: What are the most typical complaints the department receives that officers must respond to in a typical year?
A: Traffic collisions, minor thefts and computer-related crimes are events that seem to affect a lot of people. Another group of issues involves alcohol. Ames prohibits minors in bars so fake IDs and illegally being in a bar, public intoxication, nuisance parties and noise violations are issues for the night shift.
Q: What are the two or three most common crimes the department responds to in a typical year, and what can residents do to protect themselves?
A: Crimes run the whole gamut from vandalism and minor theft to the most serious of crimes against persons. Ames is a great place to live, but it is important to take basic steps to protect yourself and protect your property such as:
• Be patient when driving, biking or walking and obey the rules of the road.
• Please don’t text and drive.
• Lock your car, lock your bike and lock your apartment.
• Secure your electronic devices and your passwords.
• If you are socializing, use a buddy system and let people know where you are going.
• Limit your alcohol consumption and avoid intoxication.
• Put the Ames police (515) 239-5133 and ISU Police (515) 294-4428 in your phone so you can call in suspicious behavior or concerns.
Q: A sudden influx of some 20,000-plus young people undoubtedly places a significant increase in the burden on your department each August, but what kind of positive opportunities does this same influx create for your officers and the department?
A: Most of our officers were students, some are still students, and they wouldn’t be working here if they didn’t enjoy college students. We look forward to the new arrivals and excitement and energy of a college community. We employ students in our part-time positions, participate in research projects and work with students to ensure that Ames is a great place to live.
Q: What are the one or two most important things you want new students and new residents of the community to know about the Ames Police Department?
A: We can be most effective if residents think of us as partners in the effort to create safe neighborhoods. We can do a great deal but we also do more when citizens assist in those efforts.