Fire department options

Acting chief urges Town of Saukville to be proactive in exploring ways to consolidate forces for emergency services
By 
CONNOR CARYNSKI
Ozaukee Press Staff

The Saukville Town Board invited Saukville Fire Chief Bill Rice to its June 15 meeting and provide information on how the town might improve its emergency response services in coming years. 

During the meeting, Rice referenced a  study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum that outlined the overall status of emergency services throughout Ozaukee County. 

Rice said the survey indicates that in municipalities in the county — whether in more metropolitan communities or rural townships — emergency management services and firefighter staff sizes are declining, and emergency response times are slipping as a result. 

“Staffing is dwindling and getting worse almost every year,” he said. 

Rice said there are occasions in local communities where volunteer fire fighters or EMS personnel are not immediately available to respond to calls, leaving those in emergency situations waiting for assistance far beyond what a full-time staff could provide. 

“All our departments need to do something and do something soon,” he said. 

Rice said a solution to the changing climate of local emergency services could be a combination of departments, a move that would pool resources, provide better service and allow emergency responders to coordinate calls. 

“In my opinion, there is no question we should have one fire department from Mequon to Belgium,” he said. “The problem is, that is expensive.”

In lieu of the ideal situation of a county-wide department, Rice said, another solution for improved services may be the consolidation of nearby departments. 

Although nothing is finalized, Rice said the town and village of Grafton and the Village of Saukville may be considering joining forces in coming years — a conglomerate he said the Town of Saukville may be interested in joining as well. 

“I believe small, cluster consolidations could be where the Village of Grafton, the Town of Grafton and the Village of Saukville is going, and I think it would really be something for the Town of Saukville to participate in,” he said. 

Currently, the town contracts fire and EMS response services for about $186,000 a year through the Newburg Fire Department, which then subcontracts areas of the town to the Waubeka, Fredonia and Village of Saukville fire departments. Depending on what area of the town an emergency call comes from, respective fire departments will respond to the scene. 

According to information from the Ozaukee County Dispatch Center, roughly 219 EMS calls came from the Town of Saukville in 2020. 

During the meeting, Rice said he did not have an offer or even specific details available for how the conglomerate would operate or what formula would be used to determine what each municipality would contribute to a joint department. However, he encouraged town officials to begin conversations with the Village of Saukville or Village of Grafton on what a partnership may look like. 

“Get involved now. If the meetings start to take place, be at that table because you can always walk away, but it’s harder to get back in and have your voice heard,” Rice said. 

Rice also encouraged the board to not look at a partnership as a way to save money but as a means of improving services that are strained throughout the county. 

Town Chairman Kevin Kimmes said he believes the town may be paying disproportionately more than other municipalities under its current contract with the Newburg department, which is privately run. He said the department has been unwilling to provide figures or formulas indicating exactly where town payments are being used. 

Dealing with a public department, Kimmes said, would allow officials to better know that funds are providing quality service to the community. 

Although no decision has been made regarding the town’s future emergency services usage, Kimmes said he would be contacting Village of Saukville Administrator Dawn Wagner to begin a discussion on what a joint department may look like.

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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.

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