Madison explores ‘border dropping’ to speed up emergency response

Mayor Soglin requests study into sharing public safety responders based on proximity, not jurisdiction

The City of Madison is taking the first steps to work with its neighbors to ensure the closest fire engine would be sent to an incident regardless of which municipality it happens to be in.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is requesting a study be conducted into what’s called “border dropping.” It was first discussed by Dane County Executive Joe Parisi as a way to speed up emergency response times. Border dropping ensures that the closest unit to an incident goes no matter if the emergency is across a municipality border.

“I’m glad the city is taking a look at this,” Parisi said . “When people experience an emergency, they want help fast, and political lines should not determine where that help comes from.”

Last October, Madison resident Chris Williams died in a fire after delays in dispatching help because the 911 Center’s computer kept trying to send the Monona Fire Department instead of the Madison Fire Department to the fire. Monona’s fire engine was closer, but because the municipalities did not have previously agreed upon agreements allowing each other to fight fires in each other’s municipality, it was not sent.

Madison Fire Chief Steve Davis asked Soglin for the authority to investigate agreements with neighboring municipalities. Currently, Madison has an agreement with the village of Shorewood to provide fire protection and is negotiating to do the same with the Town of Blooming Grove. Soglin said the study will explore whether neighboring communities have “like services,” meaning at least four trained firefighters per engine, ladder or squad are on duty, every day of the year, like the Madison Fire Department.

“Madison taxpayers have made a substantial investment in their fire department, and they must be assured that they will be receiving an equivalent service,” Soglin said. “Public safety is the most basic job of government. Border drops offer an opportunity to offer even better protection, but we must ensure that we are not short-changing our citizens.”

Last week, News 3 featured the emergency response system in Charleston County, South Carolina, a community roughly the same size as Dane County which receives roughly the same number of emergency calls. Its fire departments have dropped their borders and firefighters there report it has saved lives as the closest unit to an incident no matter what municipality it may be in is the first one sent.