116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Tiffin fire department hires first full-time employee
City leaders say more new positions are possible as the Johnson County town continues to grow
TIFFIN — Bill Erb worked nearly every first responder job there is before becoming the Tiffin Fire Department’s fire marshal and code enforcement officer — the department’s first full-time employee position — in early January.
“I’ve got a diverse background in law enforcement, EMS and the fire service. So, I’m able to look at a lot of different angles, when I work, toward my job,” Erb, 46, said.
He started in public service while in high school, working as an emergency medical technician on the local ambulance crew in his hometown of Graettinger, Iowa. He thought about pursuing a career in firefighting in his youth, because his dad was a firefighter, but decided to go into law enforcement instead.
Erb worked for several years in law enforcement positions in northwest Iowa, including as a juvenile court probation tracking officer for Palo Alto County, and police chief in Sioux Rapids.
While working in law enforcement, and especially while working as a juvenile officer, Erb said he saw a lot of young people and families who didn’t have enough support. Erb and his wife, Rachel Erb, were inspired to become foster parents.
The couple has fostered 15 children, and adopted three. They also have three biological children.
When the couple became parents, Erb decided he wanted to get out of law enforcement and look for a less dangerous career that would allow him to be home with his kids more often. He went to work as a continuous improvement manager for Rosenboom Machine and Tool in Spirit Lake, with no intention of getting back into public safety work.
“The fire chief for Spirit Lake saw me at a Dairy Queen one day in Spirit Lake and asked if I wanted to join the fire department. And I told him absolutely not,” Erb said. “I was working on my associate degree at that time, and I was working, had kids. I just didn’t have the time commitment to put into it. After I got done with my degree, he saw me again. He goes, ‘Why don’t you just come by the station and do a couple of meetings?’”
After attending two meetings, Erb was hooked. He ended up volunteering with the Spirit Lake Fire Department for several years. He received two department firefighter of the year awards while there, and one county firefighter of the year award.
“I had darn near 100 percent call volume, for meeting every call, 100 percent training, meetings, and then just helping out around the station and trying to move the program forward and everything,” Erb said.
Erb has continued to work and volunteer in the fire service in various cities since then. He got his bachelor’s degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University and is currently working on getting a master’s degree in fire executive leadership with a concentration in emergency services.
He worked for the Coralville Fire Department for several years, and had been volunteering at the Tiffin department since April 2022.
Last year, the Tiffin City Council approved hiring a full-time fire marshal/code enforcement officer. Erb started the job on Jan. 3. His annual salary is $70,000, split between the Fire Department and the Building Department.
Tiffin City Council member Skylar Limkemann said he proposed hiring a full-time fire department employee because he feels that the public safety services in Tiffin haven’t grown enough to keep up with population growth in the city.
The city’s population more than doubled between 2010 and 2020. According to the U.S. Census, the population was 1,947 in 2010, and it was 4,512 in 2020.
“Some people need to understand that Tiffin is not 1,000 people anymore, and that services have to keep up with growth. And when you talk about public safety, that's one of the essential services that it's our responsibility to deliver to the public and make available,” Limkemann said.
“(Erb is) a very well-rounded individual that will serve the community for many, many years and help us meet those goals and reduce the risks of the community and make it a safer place to live and work,” Limkemann said.
The city recently transitioned its fire department from a nonprofit organization that contracted with the city, to a city-run department. Limkemann said the next step was to start hiring full-time staff.
Limkemann, who is a volunteer firefighter in Tiffin, said he originally wanted the first full-time position to be a full-time fire chief, but the council compromised with the joint position of fire marshal and code enforcement officer.
Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner said the decision to hire a full-time employee was necessary both for the fire department and the building department, as the needs of the city have been growing. He said he believes over time, the position will transition to being solely within the fire department.
“As the city continues to grow, that position will move into a fire inspector, strictly into those duties … Then I see the next position after that will be a full-time fire chief. Those two people will be the main people, and then we will add officers as time goes by,” Berner said.
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