County paramedic grant program called a lifesaver

Port commission urges city to participate in $5 million program intended to address response time crisis

Port Washington Fire Chief Mark Mitchell has suggested that departments in the county that will soon be able to apply for Ozaukee County grants to fund full-time paramedic/firefighter positions consider a joint hiring process. Press file photo
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

Just a week after the Ozaukee County Board unanimously approved spending $5 million to fund 18 full-time paramedics for fire departments throughout the county, the Port Washington Police and Fire Commission on Monday urged the Common Council to apply for a $200,000 annual grant.

“We have a problem (with paramedic staffing) right now. This saves lives right now,” Commission Chairman Rick Nelson, who is also a county supervisor, said.

“The sooner we can get this going the better.

And because the grants are intended to finance the paramedic program for 30 months, he said, it gives the city time to come up with a way to fund the additional positions after the county funding ends.

The grant application calls for municipalities to submit a plan to sustain the paramedic positions after the county program ends by May 1, 2023.

Ald. Dan Benning, who was at the meeting, suggested the commission meet with City Administrator Tony Brown and County Administrator Jason Dzwinel to learn about the specifics of the county plan.

“The devil’s in the details,” he said.

The county’s plan calls for hiring 18 full-time firefighters who would be stationed throughout the county, Nelson said.

“The idea is to have them evenly distributed,” he said.

Sheriff Jim Johnson, who was the driving force behind the county plan, called for it after noticing that ambulances weren’t getting to calls in time to help patients, Nelson said.

“Paramedics were not getting there in time to save a life,” he said.

The county plan calls for departments to submit a grant application in order to receive $200,000 annually for three years to fund these positions.

he county program ends by May 1, 2023.

Municipalities that consolidate ambulance services with another community could be eligible for an additional $100,000 a year, and if they consolidate with three or more municipalities, they can apply for as much as $100,000 annually for building improvements.

Nelson noted that the county wants to have grant applications in by June.

The county program authorizes the Public Safety Committee to approve the grant applications, and because county supervisors were recently re-elected, the committee members won’t be appointed until next month.

Dzwinel said Tuesday that  his office is working to develop the grant application so they will be ready to move ahead when the committee next meets.

Port Washington has been struggling to staff its ambulance service with a paramedic around the clock, and in recent years commission members have sought to supplement its part-time crew with paid, full-time paramedics.

Fire Chief Mark Mitchell has sought three full-time paramedics, saying that would allow the city to guarantee paramedic coverage around the clock.

Although the city has authorized hiring two paramedics, it has struggled to fill the second position.

With the county funding, the city could hire five paramedics, commission members noted.

“How many do we need?” commission member Ed Johnson asked. “Five seems like more than we need.”

But Mitchell said this would allow the city to not only staff the ambulance around the clock, it would also ensure there are paramedics to fill in when the second ambulance is needed and when people go on vacation or are ill.

Commission members asked if the county money could be used to replace local funding for the paramedics, and Mitchell said the county’s intention is to supplement the existing paramedic corps, not supplant local funding.

But the fact that all the county departments will be seeking paramedics concerned commission member Sarah Burdette.

“Do you feel in this community there are 18 people who are going to be qualified?” she asked.

“The pool of applicants has shrunk considerably,” Mitchell said.

He said he has suggested that instead of having every county fire department try to hire its own paramedics, the departments consider a joint hiring process to streamline things. The departments would put applicants through a joint testing process, with applicants determining which departments would receive the  results.

“They all want the right fit,” he said.

Commission members also questioned whether the department would be able to attract applicants. Mitchell noted that Port’s pay for paramedics is “pretty close” to that offered by other county departments, but he said that Mequon is about to start a lateral pay program “that blows that (equity) out of the water.”

“If we’re offering the same (pay) as other departments, they’re going to be looking at other things,” Burdette said, and Port’s current station and facilities may not be as attractive as those provided in other communities.

But Johnson said that is a secondary consideration to simply being able to hire more people.

“It behooves us to say we would like to apply for this money,” he said.

But, Johnson added, the city needs to make hiring more paramedics a priority into the future.

Without that guarantee, he said, it would “arguably be silly” to seek a grant.

Commission member Terry Tietyen asked if the city would have room in its budget to make the paramedic program sustainable.

“Will the tax rate go up enough in 30 months to pay for it?” he asked, noting that the city would otherwise need to hold a referendum to increase its levy to support the paramedic program.

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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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