Chief wants another full-time firefighter

Rice asks Public Safety Committee to back request for staff expansion he says won’t require more money
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Grafton Fire Department is seeking to hire a second full-time firefighter-paramedic for next year.

During Tuesday’s Public Safety Committee meeting, Fire Chief Bill Rice requested an additional firefighter in preparation for the 2019 budget.

In the past, Rice has suggested creating a crew of three full-time firefighters because the department has experienced a growing shortage of volunteers for weekend and evening shifts.

In July, the department hired its first full-time firefighter Tom Schoofs. Currently the department has three full-time members, including Rice, Schoofs and Division Chief Matt Karpinski.

Rice told the committee he can afford another firefighter without requesting more money than last year.

“It will be status quo,” he said.

The starting salary and benefits for a Grafton firefighter is $72,819. Rice believes he can cover the cost because the village will disband its dispatching services at the end of the year when it will be consolidated with the county.

The savings from that change will save the department $52,067. Rice said the remaining $23,644 would come from money saved by not needing as many paid-on-call volunteers.

Rice also said he wants to add a third firefighter by 2020.

Committee member Joe Eernisse, who represents the town, said a skeleton staff is a good idea for the time being but eventually the department will need to consider consolidating with other neighboring communities.

He also said the department needs to look at capital costs versus personnel.

“The town has funded more for equipment than anyone else in the county,” he said.

Rice agreed.

“The start of a county-wide rescue service won’t be today or tomorrow because it takes time,” he said. “The county is apparatus rich, which would be a tremendous cost savings.”

There are approximately 60 volunteer firefighters, EMTs and paramedics with the fire department, but they are not always available. Rice said his greatest challenge is finding volunteers for emergency medical services.

“The toughest part for me is to get EMTs and paramedics that are willing to be available for multiple nights and weekends,” he said. “We need a lot of people to do this job safely.”

Rice said last month was the busiest time in department history with 160 calls. Between Aug. 20 and 31, the department received 6.25 calls per day, totalling 75 calls.

Over the past 10 years, the department’s call volume has increased by 44%, he said.

Rice said volunteers today are challenged by schedules that are less flexible between work and family, as opposed to previous generations.

Meanwhile, Grafton Police Chief Charles Wenten is also seeking more help, asking for two more police officers for next year, which would cost $119,000.

He said he needs the extra officers because of the growing opioid crisis and for school safety. He also anticipates there will be a couple officers retiring next year.

Wenten also said he will have five police support specialists who were former dispatchers, which is one-and-a-half fewer than planned for during the consolidation process last spring. In order to make up for that shortage, he’s requesting $21,000 in overtime for the specialists.  

No action was taken during the meeting.

The 2019 budget will be finalized in December when the Village Board adopts the spending plan.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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