Dane County Executive Joe Parisi is encouraging Madison and its neighbors to enter into automatic aid agreements to allow the closest firefighter to an emergency to respond, regardless of where they're from.
He said public safety is in jeopardy and that the move makes sense to the public.
"If I'm caught in a burning house, I don't care what color uniform the firefighter is wearing, I want the person who's closest dispatched to that scene." Parisi said. "It only makes sense to have the nearest unit responding to an emergency."
His office provided multiple examples where the Madison Fire Department had actively protected its borders, preventing neighboring municipalities from either being helped or providing help. Last July, the Waste Management Recycling Center, located next to a staffed Town of Madison fire department, burned while the facility waited for the city fire crews to get there.
In another case from March 22, both Sun Prairie medics were assigned to a fatal accident. When a structure fire at Royle Printing broke out, the 911 Center sent a Madison Fire Department medic to assist the Sun Prairie Fire Department. That drew a rebuke from a Madison Fire Division Chief who called the 911 Supervisor on duty and demanded the medic leave the scene immediately.
"We don't send our units into another district's fire call without a supervisor," he said on the audio tape provided to News 3.
Parisi said there are numerous incidents where sending the closest unit could help. His office pointed out a fire on Friday afternoon on Camden Road in Madison where three kids escaped without injury. It took Madison Fire roughly six minutes to get there while the Town of Blooming Grove Fire Department crew was at the station, less than .2 miles away.
A Madison Fire Department release said the fire caused by kids playing with a lighter, led to approximately $25,000 in damage.
Madison Fire Chief Steve Davis said Parisi's efforts are an attempt to "deflect" the attention away from the 911 Center's problems answering and dispatching emergency calls quickly enough. He said Madison had only one automatic aid agreement, with the Town of Blooming Grove for the protection of the sewer district building that straddles both municipalities.
Davis said his concern is that Madison taxpayers expect a certain service provided and his goal is to ensure that quality is sent to residents in need
"If (neighboring fire departments) can guarantee experience and that their people are trained and a guaranteed number of people on a rig, then I'm happy to open up a greater conversation about this kind of collaboration," he said.
Further, Davis said descriptions of Madison not working well with its neighbors are overblown. He said crews from different municipalities work together in the field every day and their biggest challenge remains getting the 911 Center to get them out the door faster so they can do their job more successfully.
Parisi said last October's fire at the Ridgewood Apartments which killed 51-year-old Chris Williams is a "tragic example" of why auto aid agreements are needed. While it took 911 operators nearly four minutes to dispatch firefighters to the scene, they sent Madison units roughly ten minutes away instead of a Monona crew less than a mile away.
The apartment complex is on the Madison side of the Madison-Monona border.
"Should we look at 911? Absolutely," said Parisi. "Should we continue to focus there? You bet. But if you ignore what happens after dispatch and don't ask the question, 'Why did it take Madison ten minutes to respond to a fire when there was a Monona unit less than a mile away?' I think we're doing a disservice to our community."