Port explores shared Port-Saukville firehouse

City’s priority is finding best site for new station, but officials say a westside location could serve both communities

Port Washington Mayor Marty Becker announced Tuesday he has formed a task force to look at the need for a new fire station — a firehouse that potentially could be shared with the Village of Saukville.

The focus, Becker said, is to meet Port’s needs for a new firehouse, but if the task force finds a location and design that would allow for a joint facility, that would be ideal. 

Becker, a former member of the Police and Fire Commission who pledged to work for a new firehouse during his campaign,  said he wants the task force to look at everything from the city’s needs, potential site locations and design requirements and the costs involved.

“It’s time to do it,” Becker said in an interview last week. “I want to get off center. This is for the safety of the community. 

“I want to know can we build it? Where will we build it? What are our needs? Where are we going to get the money for it?”

Becker said that he wants the task force to report its results to the Police and Fire Commission and potentially to the Common Council in June.

Becker, who was out of town and did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, made his announcement at the Common Council meeting via a letter read by Council President  Mike Ehrlich.

“I wish I were going to be there to do this,” Becker said last week. “But I don’t want to wait. I believe this is too important to wait another month.”

Fire Chief Mark Mitchell, who has been fighting for a second fire station for the last six years, said after the meeting he is encouraged by the decision.

“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said, although he noted, “It’s slow going.”

Aldermen offered no comment after the announcement.

In his announcement, Becker noted that the current firehouse was built in 1969 with an addition constructed in 1995.

“Since then, the city has grown in area, the size of fire apparatus is bigger and the need to house overnight paramedics, both male and female, has evolved,” he said.

The need for a new firehouse has arisen not just because of space constraints, Becker said.

He noted that nearly 700 new housing units and commercial developments have been approved or proposed to be built in the next two years, adding the fire department responded to about 200 calls and the ambulance service to almost 1,400 calls in 2018.

“These numbers have continued to rise each year,” Becker said.

“A man-made barrier, the railroad tracks on the west side of town, have always been a concern for emergency responders,” he said. The current fire station is east of the tracks and, if they are blocked, firefighters and ambulance crews would fine it difficult to respond to calls west of them, he noted.

“Every minute counts when an ambulance is coming,” he said.

In addition, about 40% of the firefighters and ambulance crew members live west of the tracks, he said.

Past studies have talked of the need for a second fire station as a satellite facility, but Becker said that’s something the task force will look at.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be the main station,” he said. “I don’t know if we can afford to keep two stations.”

The task force will be led by Jim Biever, a member of the Police and Fire Commission. Other members include Mitchell, Assistant Fire Chief Steve Schmidt, Police and Fire Commission Chairman Rick Nelson, Ald. Dan Benning, former Fire Chief Marc Eernisse and Kim Haskell, a citizen representative. Becker said he will also be a member of the group.

“The time has come for us to decide what we’re going to do,” Biever said Wednesday. “The handwriting’s on the wall. There’s such a strong need for it — the city’s growing and the need for services in increasing.”

Becker said he was motivated, in part, to start the task force now after reading an Ozaukee Press editorial that talked of the future of small-town firefighting and the potential need to combine services in the future.

In keeping with that focus, Becker said that while the needs of Port Washington are the focus of the task force, it will also look at whether it could be a shared facility with the Village of Saukville.

Its fire station is on the west side of the village, and both railroad tracks and a bridge could potentially block emergency personnel from getting to the east side of the community, he said.

If Port were to build a station on Highway 33 between the two communities, it might be an ideal location for both municipalities, Becker said.

“It’s going to be our fire station,” Becker said. “Let’s see what our needs are first, and then we can see if it makes sense for the two communities to work together.”

Becker said he has brought the idea up to Saukville President Barb Dickmann and Administrator Dawn Wagner.

“They have been very positive about shared services,” he said.

Several years ago, the Police and Fire Commission identified three potential sites for a fire station — the former Highway LL ramp north of Highway 33, a portion of the property just north of the Justice Center  — both county owned — and the former Flaherty auto dealership on Highway 32, which is privately owned.

Becker said he would also like to see the task force look at 40 acres of city-owned land just east of Jackson Road, a large portion of which has been earmarked for a baseball complex. 

City Administrator Mark Grams said the task force may also have to take a serious look at how a new fire station would impact the city’s budget — in particular the impact that constructing and operating a new facility would have on the state-imposed levy limits.

“In the end, you may end up with a referendum on the levy limits,” Grams said. “You have to look at the cost and the effect it has on everything.”

The task force’s first meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, at the fire station. 


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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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