Widow of Cedar Falls, IA, Fire Captain Fights for Policy Change

June 21, 2024
A week after Cedar Falls Capt. Brad Sherwood died of a heart attack, his family was dropped from the city's health insurance.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Iowa


CEDAR FALLS — Brad Sherwood left a legacy of service, hard work, humor and love.

That legacy may also soon include a change to city policy that would benefit surviving family members if an employee suffers a job-related death.

Brad was a Cedar Falls fire captain who passed away Feb. 23. His death was ruled accidental and duty related.

A week after his death, his family – his wife Carrie, daughter Maddie and son Carter – was dropped from the city’s health insurance.

That action, on the heels of such a tragedy, catapulted Carrie into action.

The hours preceding Brad’s death were typical. He had come off a 24-hour shift, set his alarm for 5:45 and went to sleep in preparation for work in the morning.

“I decided to sleep in that morning,” Carrie said. “I don’t think I will ever forgive myself.”

Carrie was awakened at 8:30 by someone pounding on the door and the phone ringing. It was Brad’s colleagues. He did not show up for work, and they weren’t able to reach him. Carrie searched the house. She found all his work things laid out and his duffel bag with a package of Chips Ahoy cookies sitting on top. She found Brad on the floor. He was already gone. He was 56 years old.

“They said it was a sudden cardiac event,” Carrie said.

Brad had been a Cedar Falls firefighter for 27 years. He started as a volunteer in 1997 and became full-time in 2001. He made captain in 2009. He was named Fire Officer of the Year in 2015. He was the last remaining professional firefighter with the department.

“He loved his job,” Carrie said. “Those people were his family. It was what he was meant to do. He was an amazing human being who cared about the people he served.”

When Brad and Carrie met in 2005, she had two young children. Carter was in preschool and Maddie was in elementary school. They married in 2012, and Brad adopted the kids. They settled in Dike where Brad also owned an acreage that had been in his family for years.

“He was a father figure for me pretty much my entire life,” said Carter, 23. “He was a very caring father. I know a lot of people say that about their fathers, but I mean it. He was always kind and would always find time to send me a text or call me or send me a random selfie with a cat.

“He always let me know he was proud of me, and if I did something good, he let me know it was good. If I would mess up or make a mistake, he was never angry. He would be stern and straightforward. He’d tell me to learn from it and move on.

“As a dad and as a person, he was the perfect template of the man I want to be.”

With the responsibilities of school and work, Maddie Dyer, 25, hadn’t been able to visit her parents as much as she wanted.

The last time she saw her father was Valentine’s Day, nine days before this death.

“He happened to be in Iowa City for an appointment, and we were able to have a quick lunch,” she said. “I can’t even put into words how grateful I am to have had that time with him.

“Brad was selfless. Everything he did was for us. For my mom, too, but mostly for his kids. He started college savings accounts for us. He wanted to know he had contributed to our futures.

“Brad was the one that you called no matter what the problem was and when it was.”

Maddie called her dad when her smoke alarms were going off in the middle of the night.

“I called him, and he answered. We always went to him for help. Even his friends would call for car help or storing something on the acreage or to borrow something. He was there for everyone.”

As his loved ones mourned, Carrie was informed that her family would no longer be eligible for insurance through the city.

“He passed on a Friday, and we were off the insurance by the following weekend,” Carrie said. “This is mind-blowing to me. It’s shocking. It was like getting hit in the face.”

Just weeks after his death, Carrie contacted city officials and met with Mayor Danny Laudick and City Administrator Ron Gaines, trying to get help with her situation.

She has contacted other similar-sized cities and their human resources departments. She has spent hours scouring the internet, and she has been in touch with city of Waterloo staff.

Waterloo changed its policy following the 1981 deaths of police officers Michael Hoing and Wayne Rice who were shot and killed by James “T-Bone” Taylor when they responded to a noise complaint.

She emailed all seven Cedar Falls City Council members individually; Hannah Crisman was the only member to respond.

Frustrated, Carrie addressed the council at its regular meeting May 20.

She opened her comments by saying, “The tributes and the honor and the respect my husband and our family received from Public Safety is incredible. … The mayor has been extremely responsive and compassionate towards me.

“I’m drowning in grief, but I felt I still needed to come here and speak.”

She brought up the lack of response from six of the seven council members.

“I’m so disappointed in that,” she said.

“My husband died due to his service to the city of Cedar Falls, but the city kicked us off of our health insurance one week after Brad died. One week.

“Why would no one think this doesn’t feel right, this doesn’t seem right?”

Council member Gil Schultz did approach Carrie after the meeting, offering his condolences, and council member Dustin Ganfield communicated with her by email, apologizing and saying there was no excuse for him not to respond, she said.

Laudick has led the effort to resolve the situation, reviewing the city’s current policy, communicating with the insurance company and keeping the council and the Sherwood family updated.

“We had to work with Wellmark,” he said. “There’s been lots of back and forth. We are seeing what the options are and exploring a change in our policies.”

Laudick said the situation did help highlight deficiencies in the city’s policy.

“It was not well defined,” he said. “We need a better policy in place. The current policy didn’t allow a two- or three-month cushion so the family isn’t having to deal with this after they’ve lost a loved one.”

Laudick said he hopes the new policy will cover all city staff and not solely first responders.

The issue is set to be on the agenda for the July 1 meeting.

“Then it’s up to the council,” Laudick said.

Carrie Sherwood spoke to the council again at its June 17 meeting.

“I continued research, I continued to be a thorn in the city’s side – mainly the mayor,” she said.

She said she expected a vote on the city’s policy at that meeting, but the mayor had informed her it would be delayed until the next meeting. Her frustration was apparent.

“I don’t really understand what is taking so long,” she said.

“You’re not approving a policy for Carrie Sherwood, you’re not approving a policy for me,” she said. “You’re approving a policy for the employees, the city, the family. This is not about me.

“I hope, at some point, we can say Cedar Falls woke up because of the loss of Brad Sherwood,” Carrie said.

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Laudick did take some responsibility for the delay.

“I’ll admit it’s taken longer than it should have, and longer than I’d like it to,” he said.


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