Emergency fire, medical discussions moving slowly

Consolidation slated to help solve staffing shortage


Ozaukee Press staff

If a collaboration between first responders in Ozaukee County is going to happen, it won’t be anytime soon.

“We had a meeting on June 21st with administrators, elected officials and three fire chiefs from four communities,” Fire Chief Bill Rice told Public Safety Committee members last week.

“Discussion kind of bogged. This is a sensitive subject. I’m trying to be optimistic. We need to have more meetings and the next one has not been set.”

A study by the Wisconsin Public Policy Forum in March 2021, at the request of Ozaukee County municipal leaders, identified options for new collaborative approaches for fire departments in Belgium, Cedarburg, Fredonia, Grafton, Mequon, Port Washington, Saukville, Thiensville, and Waubeka.

The study pointed to slow response times, increased calls for service, recruiting, staffing and retention struggles at all nine departments.

In June, behind the scenes and on their own, the Mequon and Thiensville Fire Departments agreed to merge beginning Jan. 1, 2023. That’s when talks began to drag.

Nevertheless, Rice said, the problem

remains and needs addressing sooner rather than later.

“It’s been bad for 20 years. Every town is growing, call volume is going up rapidly and the community is changing.”

Rice said the aging population and increase in senior living has also impacted the situation.

“We all have retirement centers in our towns and they call for help frequently; many are very serious calls and this can have an enormous effect on fire departments,” he said.

Rice also noted how the decline in volunteerism has negatively impacted response times across the country.

The Grafton Fire Department employs three full-time firefighter/paramedics working on a rotating 24 hours on/48 hours off schedule. This allows for one 24-hour firefighter/paramedic per day unless time off is used, and then paid on-call volunteers cover, unless there are not enough volunteers.

The value in volunteering has diminished, Rice said.

“For our annual recruitment we sent out about 1,000 flyers,” he said. “We’ve had two responses.”

Rice also said that sometimes its a matter of availability.

“Our volunteers are typically in their late 20s, and this is a busy time of life. They are married and often have children who are in sports and other activities. We are competing for everyone’s free time.”

Last May, in an attempt to ease the  slow response crisis, Ozaukee County communities were encouraged to apply for American Rescue Plan grants to fund additional paramedics nnm.

Rice, who took over administrative duties for the Saukville Fire Department two years ago, sent in a joint grant application requesting $1 million.

This funding would help meet the staffing needs of Grafton and Saukville Fire Departments, Rice said, and ultimately trickle down to other municipalities who request help.

Rice is optimistic about the grant and hopeful that consolidation talks will continue.

“We can provide better service in a more efficient manner if we work together,” he said.  



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Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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