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Iowa Short On Everything From Volunteer Firefighters To Trees

Daniel Tausis

The pandemic has created all kinds of new shortages and worsened scarcities that existed before COVID-19. On this edition of River to River, host Ben Kieffer speaks to Iowans in several fields who are having to cope.

The program begins with reduced numbers of firefighters, more specifically volunteer firefighters. According to FEMA, 71 percent of the nation’s firefighters are volunteers. Here, in Iowa, it’s closer to 90 percent. Gene Evans of the Iowa Firefighters Association speaks with Kieffer about efforts to recruit volunteers across the state.

Another shortage we can trace back to an unexpected challenge in 2020, the derecho wind storm that swept across our state on August 10. Shannon Ramsay talks about the ongoing challenges of planting, growing and caring for trees throughout Iowa.

You’ve also probably noticed a lot of "help wanted" signs in your community. Across the country, restaurant owners are having problems finding employees. In Republican-led states, this has fueled a push to end federal extended unemployment benefits. Iowa is one state putting an early end to those additional benefits. The justification for ending the additional benefits is that they're preventing workers from returning to work. Kieffer speaks with restaurant owner Brian Bruening of Elkader.

Then Paul Iverson of the University of Iowa Labor Center provides a nuanced perspective about the labor market and how potential employees are feeling about their job opportunities.


  • Gene Evans, past president and board member of the Iowa Firefighters Association
  • Shannon Ramsay, founding president and CEO, Trees Forever
  • Brian Bruening, owner, Shera's Algerian-American Restaurant in Elkader
  • Paul Iverson, labor educator and coordinator of quality pre-apprenticeship program, University of Iowa Labor Center
Ben Kieffer is the host of IPR's River to River
Rick Brewer was a producer for IPR's Talk of Iowa and River to River