Fire departments consider consolidation
Reorganization would allow departments to share staff, equipment, training
As their areas see rapid growth, Fitchburg, Verona, Oregon, and Town of Madison fire chiefs are looking at consolidating the stations into one district.
The fire chiefs said the reorganization would allow them to share staff, equipment, and training resources under one name. They said there is already a significant amount of overlap and collaboration.
Verona Fire Chief Joe Giver told his staff that when and if the stations are consolidated, they will still have jobs. In fact, his research shows that in similar processes, the district would be likely to pick up a few new employees over time.
Giver said the consolidation would not likely involve any new buildings or station moves.
"In our situation, our stations are located far enough apart that we really can't close a station, or probably not even reduce a serious amount of apparatus, because of the distance between the stations," Giver said.
The idea is being discussed as Verona's firefighting team is in desperate need of a new facility. Giver said his crew has outgrown its current building as the population continues to rise and more resources are needed to serve the city.
Giver said that while there are financial benefits to consolidating, taxpayers may not notice a difference right away.
"Initially, there's not any huge cost savings involved with this type of reorganization because there are going to be expenses with putting an organization like that together," Giver said.
In Fitchburg, Chief Randall Pickering said by pulling together and buying equipment in bulk, fire departments can save on capital costs. He said training firefighters on the same trucks and hoses can also make the team more efficient.
"I am a true believer that doing this right, we can improve our service delivery and look for ways to minimize cost," Pickering said.
Fitchburg Mayor Shawn Pfaff said he and the other mayors and presidents have been discussing the idea for about a year now. He said with a still-sluggish economy and diminishing state funds, this was the next logical step to look into.
"Before we each go in our own way and stick our head in the sand and all go buy expensive equipment that is a little bit duplicative, it makes a ton of sense for us to be at the table," Pfaff said.
Pfaff said that when drafting the budgets in Fitchburg, Verona, and Oregon, each municipality unofficially pledged to hold off on spending for fire equipment until this year and instead look seriously into the consolidation option.
Fitchburg and Verona are already coordinating with Fitchrona EMS services, which gives them a similar governmental model to base this consolidation on, Pfaff said.
Giver said EMS services from Oregon will be added to the mutual services as a result of this consolidation.
"Ultimately, down the road, you could maybe see a southern Dane fire district, which is something that could be just fantastic," Pfaff said.
Pickering said that with just one trainer for all of the four municipalities' firefighters, it will be easier to fill staffing voids across the board. For instance, Verona is in need of more people so it can have people at the station around the clock. Fitchburg, on the other hand, could use more help on the administrative side.
"That's a huge piece of being able to operate more efficiently is having a bigger pool of people to work from," Pickering said.
Both Pickering and Giver said reorganization is probable, meaning employee positions could be moved around, but they don't expect anyone to be eliminated.
"I don't know if I'm going to be the fire chief," Giver said. "I might be a captain or something. I don't know, but I'm willing to take that demotion, as it were, for the good of the service, because it would provide a much higher level of service to the people of the area here."
A group of University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students are developing a cost-benefit analysis for the consolidation. The initial reports will be presented at 8 a.m. Dec. 17 in Fitchburg City Hall.
Pfaff doesn't expect the full process to be complete for another few years, but said is progress toward consolidation could still be made in the meantime.
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