Two decades ago, a machine shed fire in rural Plymouth County might have taken one, maybe two, fire departments to put out the flames.
But in 2019, it took five just to get enough manpower and water to put out the fire. No single department had enough available volunteers or resources.
"The days where the butcher, the baker, and the horseshoe maker ran down the street when the fire whistle blew in town, that doesn't happen anymore," Le Mars Fire Chief David Schipper said.
Instead, fire departments unable to fill part-time slots from within their own areas are partnering with neighboring communities. The approach, similar to that used in rural school districts, widens the pool of available volunteers who can respond to emergency calls.
Indeed, consolidation may be the future of firefighting in Iowa. Many departments are sharing spaces, equipment and even fire chiefs. Some have simply combined departments as a whole.