Fire dept. solution is deemed costly

Chief says Public Policy Forum study won’t benefit the northern portion of Ozaukee County
By 
CONNOR CARYNSKI
Ozaukee Press Staff

Chances of the Fredonia Fire Department buying into a countywide emergency service department seem slim.

 Fire chief Brian Weyker told the Public Safety Committee July 1 that he believes spending the millions of dollars it would take to become a part of a countywide department would cost more than the village could support.

Discussions of a countywide department began after a study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum examined call volumes, budgets, staffing and other aspects of emergency services throughout the county.

The $23,500 study, which was paid for by the county’s nine fire departments and the municipalities they serve, found that paid on-call services, also known as volunteer services, have shown signs of distress in managing increased call volumes in recent years.

While total response times vary from department to department, times ranged from seven minutes for emergency medical service (EMS) calls and nine minutes for fire calls for the Grafton Fire Department, which has five full-time staff members, to 14.4 minutes for EMS calls and 17.8 minutes for fire calls for the Waubeka Fire Department, which relies exclusively on volunteers.

While the study made no recommendations for how to address slipping response times and dwindling volunteer staff, it did offer six approaches county departments could take to bolster emergency services.

The most expensive option at an estimated $7.86 million and the one some county officials believe would provide the highest level of service is to create a countywide department.

“Personally, I don’t think this study is going to benefit us on the north end. It’s going to cost us a ton of money to go the route they want us to,” Weyker said.

In lieu of the countywide approach, Weyker advised the committee to begin exploring ways of partnering with neighboring departments for a regional department.

The chief said it is unlikely the village would be able to afford its own full-time staff, making a partnership with neighboring departments a realistic solution.

The Fredonia Fire Department relies almost entirely on paid on-call members.

Saukville and Grafton are in the midst of discussions about forming a regional partnership, although nothing has been finalized.

A combined department between the municipalities is estimated to cost $54.73 per capita.

Trustee Jill Bertram said the committee would contact the Town of Fredonia, the Town of Belgium and the Village of Belgium to start a discussion about combining services.

Weyker said while discussions were had about creating a regional department, he would also form a committee within the fire department to develop ways of retaining the current volunteer staff such as additional pay, benefits or even a tax break for members. He also suggested paying out volunteer staff payments every six months rather than annually.

“We need to take a look at what we need to do to keep our people there,” he said.

Without a change, Weyker said, he does not believe the department will retain enough volunteer firefighters to provide effective response times.

The chief attributed the drop off in staff numbers to a lack of newcomers in the department, noting that the department is aging with several members already over 40 years old.

“There’s no 18-year-old kids knocking on the door looking to do this stuff,” he said.

 Fire chiefs throughout the county met June 28 to discuss results of the survey and how the county may approach combining services, but Weyker said he was not able to attend and could not provide details on what was discussed.

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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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Port Washington, WI 53074
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