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Wis. official presents plan to split fire, EMS into separate organizations

Waterford administrator offered a plan to create a new EMS department as part of a larger reorganization


A Village of Waterford Fire Department ambulance.

Village of Waterford Fire Department/Facebook

By Scott Williams
The Journal Times

WATERFORD, Wis. — Village leaders have unveiled plans for restructuring the Waterford Fire Department by breaking fire protection and ambulance service into separate functions.

The move announced Tuesday follows public pressure for improved service in the fire department, as financial pressures have squeezed resources and reduced manpower.

The village is compiling results of a public survey asking whether Waterford residents support holding a referendum to increase funding for the fire department in its current structure, with fire and ambulance combined.

But Village Administrator Zeke Jackson announced Thursday a plan for separating the two functions and creating a new emergency medical services department to include all ambulance operations.

Noting that ambulances account for 80% of the fire department’s calls for service, Jackson said the reorganization would reallocate resources and add an extra $275,000 for the new emergency medical services department.

The remainder of the current fire department would be reorganized, too, and the village will consider offering firefighters hiring or retention bonuses, Jackson said.

“Village leadership has taken a data-driven approach to public policy, determined to allocate resources accordingly,” he said.

This year, the Waterford Village Board cut funding from $1,279,308 to $1,176,297 for fire operations and EMS combined. Manpower has been reduced to three staff members on weekdays and two on weeknights and weekends.

Jackson’s announcement said that the director of the new EMS department will report to the village administrator rather than the fire chief. The EMS department will occupy the fire station at 819 Mohr Ave., and the fire chief and fire department may use part of the firehouse, too, with the EMS director’s approval.

Fire Chief Kevin Hafemann said Thursday he was not consulted about the reorganization plan.

Hafemann, who has pleaded with Village Board members during the past year for more funding to improve services, said he is seeking an explanation about how the new structure would work in everyday operations.

“We need to figure this out quickly,” he said, “because at the end of the day, this is all about taking care of our community and being there for them, no matter what.”

The fire department handles about 1,000 calls for service annually.

The department recently submitted applications for federal grants to increase staffing and to replace aging equipment for firefighters.

Public backlash against budget cuts and manpower shortages has grown since last year when Hafemann announced plans to pull out of the Fourth of July parade because he could not spare the personnel.

In some instances, Waterford firefighters have been too short-staffed to enter a burning building or handle certain types of medical emergencies until neighboring fire departments respond with additional personnel.

Village Board members last July agreed to consider holding a public referendum on increased funding for the fire department. A public survey was conducted this spring, and officials plan to release the survey results soon.

In announcing the reorganization plan, Jackson did not indicate how the current fire department budget would be reapportioned. Nor did he say whether current staff members would be retained.

The new EMS department, he said, will include a “paramedic-level director,” as well as two new full-time paramedic positions, one new full-time emergency medical technician, and “several thousand hours” for part-time coverage by other paramedics and EMTs.

Recruitment is scheduled to begin next week for the new positions.

In the announcement, Village Trustee Tamara Pollnow said she supports creating a separate department to handle ambulance calls.

“It just makes sense,” Pollnow said.

Village President Don Houston also voiced support for the reorganization.

“We hope this new organizational plan will allow us to enhance and expand access to emergency medical care,” Houston said, “while maintaining core services as our community continues to both age and grow.”

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