Temporary division chief brought in from Port for new perspective on emergency services challenges
The Saukville Fire Department has had an ongoing problem staffing its ambulance, but village officials are hoping a solution may be close at hand.
The Village Board approved a temporary restructuring of the fire department’s Emergency Medical Services following a 45-minute closed session last week.
The cornerstone of the plan is hiring Maribeth Barbuch, who handles scheduling for the Port Washington Fire Department’s ambulance service, on a temporary basis.
Barbuch, a paramedic, is also deputy coroner for Ozaukee County.
Her appointment as a temporary assistant chief for Saukville’s EMS team will run from June 1 to Jan. 31.
Fire Chief Gilly Schultz said the hiring represents an attempt to bring some stability and support to the department’s emergency responders.
Barbuch’s duties will include scheduling, training and recruitment.
“She runs Port’s EMT service and does an excellent job there,” Schultz said. “She is also very well liked. When we told our members, our EMTs were very happy with the appointment.”
Although billed as a temporary assignment, he said department officers will see how far the redefined position goes in addressing issues that have plagued the department.
“We’ve had some real problems covering shifts,” Schultz said. Scheduling has been challenging for the department long before Shari Kirsch stepped down last year as EMS director after 30 years with the department, he said.
“I would say we have had a dry spell for at least three years,” Schultz said.
Recruitment efforts have been largely ineffective.
The department has 18 licensed EMTs. That crew was recently augmented by the state certification of five first responders who can now accompany technicians on calls.
The department primarily takes its emergency calls to Aurora Medical Center in Grafton.
Schultz said the temporary assistant chief’s appointment was just one of the options considered to bring stability to the EMS unit.
“We considered a hundred different options, including hiring a paid EMS director, contracting with another department for the service or contracting with a private company,” he said.
“Our concern has always been to get the best medical care possible for the people of the Village of Saukville.”
The greatest challenge the department faces, according to the chief, is having trained EMTs ready to respond to emergency calls during the day.
“Twenty or 30 years ago, we had plenty of people in the department who lived and worked in the Village of Saukville and had no problem covering shifts,” Schultz said.
“Today, not that many people work in the village. It all comes down to a question of availability.”
He said several local companies — specifically citing P.D. Peterka & Associates, Kohler Co. and Charter Steel — have been very cooperative in releasing employees from their duties when they need to respond to EMS calls.
Schultz said the old approach of scheduling responders to cover 12-hour shifts doesn’t work any more.
“It used to be we had people scheduled from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., or 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and you knew they would be available,” he said.
“Today, with people working different shifts and having so many more family obligations, that schedule doesn’t work.”
The extensive training required of EMTs also means fewer people are likely to join the service unless they are really committed, Schultz said.