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Chief calls on council to fund new firehouse PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 07 June 2017 17:54

Mitchell says second station needed but Port officials make no promises

    Port Washington Fire Chief Mark Mitchell on Tuesday made another pitch for a second fire station, telling the Common Council it’s vital for public safety.
    “I think that the city isn’t doing right by many of its residents by continuing to have the Fire Department respond from one location,” Mitchell told aldermen.
    “A well-established infrastructure should be in place as more and more developments are being built out or being planned for, and a second fire station should be an important part of that infrastructure.”
    Mitchell, who was backed at the meeting by the Police and Fire Commission and about a dozen firefighters, has been actively advocating for a new fire station for years.
    The commission has also sought funding for a $13,500 feasibility study and space needs analysis for a second firehouse for the last three years.
    Aldermen placed that amount in the city’s contingency fund last year, but City Administrator Mark Grams said a decision on whether to move ahead with the study or instead look at what could be done at the current firehouse will be made later this year.
    Aldermen offered little feedback after Mitchell’s presentation, which also touched on personnel and equipment needs.
    Ald. Doug Biggs noted that the “back of napkin” estimated cost of a new firehouse and equipment replacement over the next five years totals about $6 million.
    “These aren’t small numbers we’re talking about,” he said.
    The presentation is one of a series scheduled this year to provide a long-term look at the city’s needs and budget constraints.
    There is no more important service a city can provide than  public safety, Mitchell said, and a new station is important to that mission.
    The current firehouse, which was built in 1968 and expanded in 1995, isn’t adequate any longer, he said, showing aldermen photos of equipment parked within inches of walls and virtually end-to-end in order to fit within the building.
    The building doesn’t have facilities for women, he said, noting nine of the department’s 56 members are female and two more have applied to become members.
    And it doesn’t have facilities for the many paramedics and EMTs who sometimes sleep at the station to ensure adequate coverage, Mitchell said.
    A new station would become the department headquarters, Mitchell said,  adding the existing firehouse would not be shuttered. Instead, the department would split its equipment between the two facilities so coverage would be equal.
    Mitchell’s comments were echoed by Captain Jim Langford, who said it’s not just the chief who sees the need.
    “From the firefighters’ perspective, we certainly need this as well,” he said.
    Mitchell pointed to a 2000 study by Ruekert & Mielke on the potential impact of the proposed Port Vincent development, which never materialized — that land is today earmarked for the Cedar Vineyard development — that noted the subdivision would nearly double the length of the fire protection service area.
    “We don’t have to wait for the Cedar Vineyards development to be built to see this factor,” Mitchell said, noting that parts of the Misty Ridge subdivision along Highway 32 are four miles from the existing fire station, producing the longest response times.
    Quick responses are vital, Mitchell said, noting that it’s important for firefighters to be able to attack a fire within 10 minutes to effectively limit the spread of a blaze and for EMTs to aid a patient in cardiac arrest within six to eight minutes before irreversible brain damage occurs.
    Mitchell said the new station should be located west of the railroad tracks, where much of the new development is occurring and where many of the firefighters live, and close to Highway LL.
    That, he said, would shorten response time for areas of the city that are three or more miles from the existing firehouse, potentially saving lives and property and provide needed space for equipment and personnel.
    Ald. John Sigwart suggested the former Schanen farm on the south side of Highway 33 across from the Hidden Hills subdivision as a potential site, and Ald. Mike Gasper noted that land at the intersection of highways 33 and LL owned by Ozaukee County and the State of Wisconsin could be other potential locations.
    Mitchell estimated the cost of a new station at between $3 million and $4 million.
    “The question has been ‘How do we pay for it?’” Mitchell said. “I don’t know, but other municipalities are finding the way with far less growth than we have.”
    One way to fund a station could be through impact fees on new development, he said, a tool used by other communities to repay debt incurred for facilities and equipment.
    In terms of staffing, Mitchell told aldermen that his department is currently not feeling the problem with recruitment faced by many other volunteer organizations.
    “That could change in the future,” he said, as firefighters retire or leave because of family situations.
    There are currently 56 firefighters in the department, and six new applicants are going through the system, he said.
    The department responded to 200 fire-related calls and 1,235 ambulance calls last year, he said, an increase of 101 calls from 2015. In 2006, he noted, the two services had only 843 calls.
    The ambulance service is self-sustaining, he said, with the fees paid by patients covering its operating expenses.

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