Traer firefighter leads statewide organization

IFA Past President Gene Evans, left, hands off the gavel to Nick Riley of Traer who became the IFA President for 2020-21 during the organization’s business meeting on Sept. 12 in Grinnell. -- Photo Provided

Nick Riley of Traer was installed as the President of the Iowa Firefighters Association (IFA) at the group’s annual business meeting last month in Grinnell.

The IFA has been in existence for more than 140 years and serves as the organizing body for roughly 15,500 volunteer and career firefighters throughout the state of Iowa.

On its website the association describes its purpose as being dedicated to the improvement of Iowa’s Fire Service and the protection of the general public through legislation, better training, minimum standards for apparatus and equipment, fire prevention as well as public relations and information.

Riley is a native of Mount Pleasant where his dad, uncle and brother have all served on the fire department for several years.

He and his wife Sami moved to Traer in 2007 where Riley quickly became a member of the fire department.

2020-21 IFA President Nick Riley -- Photo Provided

“It’s like a family here,” Riley said. “There’s a group of us on there that all have kids, all within a few years of each other. That family dynamic is one of the things that makes us a great department.”

The Traer Fire Department has held a strong connection to the IFA with local individuals who have served on or around the IFA board in the past.

Marv Boldt previously served as a president and before the IFA had an executive director, Mike and Joan Reuman were treasurers for the organization. The Reumans were also instrumental in the creation and installation of the Iowa Firefighters Memorial in Coralville, Iowa in 1994.

“Those folks have been phenomenal through my whole time on the IFA board,” Riley said. “If I ever had a question I could always call up Marv or Mike. Those guys have helped me immensely in navigating my way through this. Joan also has acted as the historian for not only the Traer Fire Department but also the IFA. It’s really interesting some of the history she’s collected.”

Early on Riley participated in some of the drills and events the IFA puts on during their annual convention and credits those experiences as critical to his later involvement with the IFA board.

Riley had a co-worker who was serving on the board and encouraged him to consider running for the seat in 2015.

The IFA board features a president, past president and five vice presidents that rotate into the president role for a year at a time. In total the commitment to serve with the IFA board is seven years.

Riley will conclude his service to the board in 2022 after serving this year as the president and next year as the past president.

“One of the best things about working with the board is going out to departments where you would never normally go to give out years of service awards. When you’re giving out those 40-plus year awards, those ones are really special. Those guys were the trend-setters for people like me.”

During his upcoming year as president Riley hopes a return to normal from the pandemic will allow the group to hold some of their usual events such as their convention, years of service certificate ceremonies and activities like summer water ball fights.

One of the primary roles the IFA fills is lobbying on behalf of firefighters with the state legislature.

Riley recalls the move to legalize fireworks in 2015, which the IFA opposed, and measures to provide benefits for the surviving families of firefights killed in the line of duty as legislative moments that have stuck out to him during his tenure.

Two additional pieces of legislation he noted as focus areas for the group during the 2021 legislative session are a statewide Length of Service Awards Program that would allow volunteer firefighters to build a retirement fund after a set number of years of service and an increase of the $100 state tax credit for firefighters to $250.

Riley hopes incentives such as these can help the state with overall recruitment and retention of firefighters from the younger generations.

“It’s tough,” Riley said. “There’s times that I’ve been late for Christmas or missed out on helping my wife and family cook Thanksgiving dinner because we’ve had calls. It does take a commitment. If we can get the younger generation to buy into it and let the process work, I think we can make the fire service even greater than it is right now.”