An emergency call for volunteers

Saukville, Grafton fire departments turn to collaboration in face of membership shortage

THE GRAFTON AND SAUKVILLE fire departments on Thursday, May 20, held a joint training session on Ninth Avenue and Mole Drive in Grafton. Grafton Assistant Chief Matt Karpinski (left), Saukville firefighter Ben Hass and Grafton Lieutenant/Paramedic Conor Quinlevan (background) practiced together using vehicle extrication equipment. Photo by Sam Arendt

SAUKVILLE ASSISTANT CHIEF Jason Laabs (far left) watched as Grafton firefighter/paramedic Teagan Melin (far right) taught department members how to safely extricate a passenger from a vehicle. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
JOE POIRIER
Ozaukee Press Staff

Acting Saukville Fire Chief Bill Rice said his fire department needs more volunteers.

Rice, who is also the fire chief in Grafton and began working with Saukville in October 2020 through an agreement between the villages, said he has 27 volunteers in Saukville compared to 70 on his Grafton roster.

“We are in need of people who would like to help out in both fire and emergency medical services calls,” Rice said, noting 17 volunteers serve as firefighters and 10 in emergency medical service. Four of the volunteers are certified in both duties.

Rice said the greatest challenge is finding EMS volunteers. 

“The toughest part for me is to get EMTs and paramedics that are willing to be available for multiple nights and weekends,” he said.

Rice said it has been important for the villages of Saukville and Grafton to work together to help offset the shortage of volunteers.

“Both communities have the same vision, and both departments want to be there for each other,” Rice said. “We are now a team that has built trust between our members in the past year.”

Last week, both departments held a joint training in Grafton that focused on extricating passengers from vehicles. Rice said having the departments train together saves on costs and also build camaraderie among volunteers.

“Training together has given us the opportunity to get to know each other, learn how to work together and develop rapport between our members,” he said. “We are all here working together because we want the communities we live in to be safe, and we’ve got each others’ backs.”

Rice said the partnership is a sign of a future consolidation between departments in Ozaukee County.

“It’s going to be a long process that is going to take about 20 years, but this is the first step or test to see that it is vital for us to provide services between communities and ensure every call is responded to as quickly as possible,” Rice said.

A recent countywide fire department study conducted by the Wisconsin Policy Forum — which examined call volumes, budgets, staffing and other factors — comes as a shortage of paramedics and other emergency medical staff has reached crisis proportions, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, and the cost of vehicles and equipment has skyrocketed, Rob Henken of the Policy Forum said.

The study makes no recommendations but offers six options, each of which include increasing the number of paid, full-time staff and greater “intergovernmental cooperation” up to the full consolidation of existing departments.

The study cost $23,500 and was paid for by nine municipalities. It suggests six options, grouped in three tiers:

• The first tier calls for departments to work collaboratively but retain their independence. That would include departments pooling their resources to hire full-time paramedics and strategically locating them around the county at an annual per capita cost of $16.02 or creating full-time firefighter shifts at some stations to handle anticipated higher call volumes at a cost of $29.98. 

• The second tier calls for consolidating some departments at an estimated per capita cost of $33.99 or creating two regional, north and south, departments costing $54.73 per capita.

• The third, and most expensive, tier would create a single countywide department, with one option calling for higher administration levels, costing $88.86 per capita annually. A scenario with less administration is estimated to cost $42.24.

According to the study, Ozaukee fire departments collectively saw a 23.5% increase in calls from 2015 to 2019 caused by an aging and growing population, economic growth and development.

Saukville saw a 33.9% rise in calls, Port Washington 31%, Grafton 30.1%, Mequon 21.2%, Thiensville 14.8%, and Cedarburg 13.1%. 

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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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